Thursday, October 29, 2015

Cry, laugh, wait

“Make ‘em cry, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em wait.”

Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) gets credit for that advice, though he said he borrowed the idea from the music hall; some speculate he borrowed it from Dickens.

Whatever its origin, speakers and writers follow that advice for obvious reasons: it keeps audiences engaged.

In writing your memoir, then, “Make ‘em cry, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em wait.”

I prefer to change Collins’ order—I like to “make ‘em laugh” before I “make ‘em cry.”

Humor endears you to your reader.

Humor makes you seem real. You are no longer a vague author lurking in shadows. Instead, your reader has spent a happy time with you and, as a result, she likes you. She wants to know you better.

If you doubt that, think back to a time when a stranger charmed you because he made you laugh. The two of you might never have met—perhaps he was a performer or athlete, or maybe a conference speaker—but after laughing together you felt admiration and probably even a bond. His personality shined through and you enjoyed him. You liked him. You’d like to spend time together.

Laughter is
a universal language,
a common connector,
a shared experience.

I once read an article about a b-o-r-i-n-g subject—a winter squash soup recipe—but the article was no yawner. See for yourself in this excerpt:

“I found myself under a misty night sky, the brick patio glistening with rain under the light of the crescent moon. I raised a giant Kabocha [squash] over my head, gave out a shriek for good measure and hurled it onto the brick. It was primal.… The husk broke loose, and I gathered the sweet orange chunks and returned to my warm kitchen.… There was something exhilarating about starting a pot of autumn soup by howling in the moonlight.” (Betsy Wharton, The Peninsula Daily News; emphasis mine)

You smiled. I know you did. Some of you even chuckled. You feel you know Betsy, at least a little, after catching a glimpse of her shrieking and howling on her patio.

Humor can also lighten the mood during stressful segments of your memoir. When writing about heartbreak, tragedy, and other heavy topics, inject humor occasionally. Something light gives readers a break. Laughter lets readers catch their breath and regroup. Humor can provide much-needed perspective and balance.

In my memoir, Grandma’s Letters from Africa, after witnessing (from a distance) inconceivable atrocities that raged for months in neighboring nations in Africa, I wrote a light-hearted vignette about my midnight fights with mosquitoes.

I’d been writing about colleagues who eventually evacuated to Nairobi, Kenya, where my husband and I lived. For months we had prayed for them, housed one of them, and invited a couple of them to join us for Christmas. We welcomed their children into our school. We listened to their stories, wept with them, and prayed for them. Even though our colleagues were safe, we agonized over continuing massacres and mutilations Africans were inflicting upon each other. The daily relentlessness left me numb.

Then things got worse: A segment of Nairobi’s population started violent protests near our office and home. It seemed like our world was spinning out of control.

And right there in the middle of it, I held my own mock-violent protest about mosquitoes in our apartment. My silly little drama didn’t seem out of place in my memoir because that was how real life was happening at the time: In the midst of heightened tensions, worries, and heartaches, funny incidents popped up. (And I was thankful to laugh about something. Ya can’t cry all the time!) The mosquito vignette offered a breather to both my readers and me.

Next week, we’ll look at makin’ ‘em cry but, for now, search for ways to include a little humor in your memoir.

Humor can enliven your memoir,
shine light on your personality,
and help readers feel acquainted with you.

Humor can also offer respite
from intense chapters in your story.

Below you’ll find links about humor in your writing:

Jeff Goins says humor is “…the difference between flat writing and dynamic communication.” Read more at Humor Writing for People Who Aren’t Funny

Adapted from post of April 4, 2013

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: Autumn’s sensory details

"When your character is in a new place,
or things alter around them,
that's the point to step back
fill in the details of their world."

Booker Prize Winner

So there you have it,
your Tuesday Tidbit,
your 15 seconds of inspiration.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Write the important stuff before it’s too late

…As young people embark upon the journey of life and begin to hit rough patches," writes Johann Chrisoph Arnoldwe can provide balance and reassurance. Whether they think so or not, people who have weathered many storms possess much wisdom.

“Father Aldo Trento, a priest in Paraguay… has seen this firsthand: ‘The greatness of old age is that it has wisdom, which is…important for young people. A young person about to face life has thousands of problems, but an old man can demystify many of these problems.’” (from The Plough’s blog post, “Why Grandparents Matter,” emphasis mine)

So, since you no doubt have “have weathered many storms,” 
what wisdom do you want your kids and grandkids 
to know before you die? 
What can you demystify for them? 

Write those messages into stories for your memoir.

Write stories that give messages like:

This is what real love looks like: (write an account illustrating real love).
This is what respect looks like: (write an account…)
This is what integrity looks like: (write an account…)
This is what tenacity looks like:
This is what faithfulness looks like: 
This is what faith in God looks like:
This is what honesty looks like:
This is what real beauty looks like:
This is what joy looks like:
This is what kindness looks like:
This is what humility looks like:

In your concluding chapter or your epilogue or post script, be sure to include thing such as:

I admire you for _____.
I respect you for _____.
I always enjoyed doing _____ with you.
I’m proud of you for doing ________.
I’ve prayed for you.
I have learned so much from you, including ____ and _____.
I’ll always remember __________.
Thank you for _____.
I love you.

Frederick Buechner’s questions can also help you write your memoir:

“…If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be.… ?

“Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo?

“Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?

“Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?

“If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?…” (Wishful Thinking)

Your stories can help shape your readers’ lives and assure them that you love and value them. Your stories can encourage them to hang in there when discouraged and to do the right thing when tempted to choose the wrong thing—and so much more!

Writing your memoir is not a hobby
—it is a ministry!
Believe that, and write!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Front matter: Have you created it for your memoir?

After you’ve finished writing your memoir’s chapters, or maybe even while you’re still writing, develop the following front matter, important documents to place at the beginning of your collection of stories:

The Title Page is the first page your readers will see. Your memoir’s title* will appear on the front cover as well as on your Title Page. Give yourself a by-line, too, such as “Swimming with Sting Rays,” by Buck Alexander. (I know people who used to swim with sting rays, including my husband and children!)

The next page is your Dedication Page where you name those for whom you’ve written your stories and why. Consider adding an Epigram on the Dedication Page. An Epigram is a saying, poem, Bible verse, or quote that pertains to what your readers will discover; an Epigram adds depth or clarity or pizzazz. (You can also include Epigrams at the beginning of your chapters. Read more in our earlier blog post, “Add Richness to Your Memoir’s Chapters.”)

Next, develop your Table of Contents (optional). If your memoir is a collection of vignettes or chapters, you will have given them titles. If so, list them for your readers and include page numbers.

After that, write your Introduction. Think of this as writing a letter to your readers. State why you wrote your stories (see especially Deuteronomy 4:9 and Psalm 66:16). You might want to share why you chose your title. Explain that your memoir is merely one slice of your life (a collection of stories pertaining to a certain theme—review What is a memoir at this link).  Include what you hope people will discover by reading your accounts. And here’s a bit of good advice from Frank P. Thomas: “Avoid making any apologies in your introduction for your life, for your writing, or for anything else. You are better than you think. So be positive.” (How To Write The Story of Your Life)

Some authors include a Prologue which gets the reader ready to begin Chapter One. A Prologue might include your memoir’s setting, date, and other background information. A Prologue can help readers settle into your story—which makes it more likely they’ll read it all the way to the final page.

Another optional feature is a Timeline. Why? Think back: You have a good grasp of the order of your life’s events. Probably your kids do, too, but how about our grandchildren and great-grandchildren? They probably won’t have a clue.

If you arrange your stories in a non-chronological order, or if you have flashbacks or insert backstory, a Timeline can be important for your readers.

Your goal is to make it easy for readers to follow along with you.  A Timeline can clear up anything that confuses your readers or hiders your stories’ message.

Keep your Timeline simple—a list with dates should work just fine, or you could create a horizontal line across two facing pages with key dates marked.

OR: Here’s a simpler way to organize your front matter: 
  • Title Page
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction—In this case, your Introduction would include the following from the above list: Dedication (and Epigram if you’re using one), Introduction, and Prologue.  Some authors write two or three pages of introductory material.
  • Timeline (optional)

Look through other memoirs for front matter ideas—you probably have a few memoirs stacked on your bedside table, right? You can also browse the shelves at libraries and bookstores.

Enjoy developing your front matter.
Give yourself permission
to write in rough draft form,
knowing you can come back later
to tweak and polish.

*For  more on titles, click on these recent blog posts:

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: The power of your memoir

“There is a world full of desperate,
broken people,
longing to hear
the honest words
of another ragamuffin.”

Your story
is the one
that could
set us all ablaze.” 

So there you have it: your 15 seconds of inspiration,
your Tuesday Tidbit.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

If your scars could talk, what stories would they tell?

Scars. You have a few. So do I. When writing our stories, we’ll almost certainly need to examine one or more of the wounds that caused our scars.

Keep in mind that a scar is not the same as a wound.

A wound is an injury, a laceration, a gash, a blow, a rip. Some are superficial, but some are deep and agonizing.

On the other hand, a scar is “a mark left where a wound or injury or sore has healed” (Oxford American Dictionary; emphasis mine).

Read that again: a scar is what you have left after healing has taken place. After the bleeding has stopped. After the scab has fallen off.

A scar is evidence of healing.

When we think of a scar, we think of something damaged, defective. We think of disfigurement and impairment. But also, don’t you think it’s good to recognize that a scar is something that has healed?

Think of your scar as an emblem declaring you’ve been repaired, a symbol of surviving, evidence that your wounds have been mended. You’ve been restored to good health.

And that’s why I ask: If your scars could talk, what stories would they tell?

Something or someone maimed you, leaving you blemished, flawed, maybe even deformed—maybe in little ways, or maybe in massive ways.

Some visible on the outside, some hidden inside.

Did you know that if you pinch a butterfly’s wings, she’s unable to navigate properly afterwards? You know what that’s like, don’t you? Bruises and defects can leave us reeling and stumbling. Sometimes, even worse, our wounds can leave us immobilized, broken down.

Most of us can get pretty creative in finding ways to keep our wounds and scars secret, hidden away. But a good memoirist will not stay stuck there.

A good memoirist will invite God
to stand alongside
and help peel back layers,
dig deeply,
get out a magnifying glass,
and discover the deeper, broader story.
A good memoirist will make time
to examine the chapter of his life
in which God used wounds
to turn his story a different
and better direction.

That reminds me of Bev Murrill’s words about Romans 8:28, “Paul said all things work together for good for people who love the Lord and are called according to His purposes. That doesn’t mean what happened is good, but that God can use even the most terrible things if we will let Him treat the wounds and heal them” (emphasis mine).

C.S. Lewis said, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” Your job as a memoirist is to look back and discover that extraordinary destiny God has been working out for you—a destiny you couldn’t have experienced if it weren’t for your hardship, your wound. You have the scar to prove it.

For the next few days, search for answers to Thornton Wilder’s question: “Without your wounds where would you be?

Then sit down in front of your computer screen, or get out your pen and paper, and write about the ways God tended and mended your wounds. How did He transform your wounds into scars? 

Who and what did God use to bring healing? Maybe a doctor, a counselor, medicine. Or perhaps the Bible, a book, prayer, a strategically placed friend or relative. Possibly time and distance helped. Maybe writing or journaling made a difference in your healing process. God has many ways of turning wounds into scars.

Bev Murrill says God is capable of “turning ugly gaping wounds into scars that serve as badges of honour and trophies of the grace of God at work in me” (emphasis mine).

What badges of honor
and trophies of God’s grace
will you include in your memoir?

 “If we are going to live with courage
and joy and integrity,
we need honest, true-to-life stories
to show us how.…”

Your memoir could do that.

If your scars could talk,
what stories would they tell?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: Your writing can lead to personal discovery

Many of you will recognize yourselves in this quote:

“I’ve lived with and in my memoir for many years.
 Not only did I mentor my younger self
through writing my story,
but the writing process mentored me in turn,
providing lessons on writing and life
I could not have learned in a classroom
or a therapy session.
Through writing my memoir
I discovered who I was,
and who and what had shaped me into that person.”

Pamela Jane (emphasis mine)

That brings us back to an excerpt from last Thursday’s post:

Much more hides within your experience than you realize right now. Writing leads to discovery. Roger Housden says it this way:

“…[A]s much as we think we know about our story,
there is far more waiting to surprise us
when our own words hit the page.”
(emphasis mine)

This is only one of the numerous benefits of writing your memoir.

So there you have it, your Tuesday Tidbit.

Have you started writing your memoir?
If not, how about beginning this week?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Who are the strategically placed people in your life?

Think about a person who made a positive impact on your life—a person who changed your life, whose life still ripples through yours today even if you live far apart, even if that person has died:

a soldier,
store clerk,
college roommate.

Perhaps even a stranger.

Or maybe a person from past generations:
a scientist,
song writer,
spiritual leader,
world leader.

What, specifically, did she do that influenced your life?

What words did he say that made all the difference?

What good example did she live which inspired you to live in the same way?

How did his choices give you courage to shape yours?

How different would your life be without that person’s involvement?

Memoirist Kathy Pooler reminded us recently: “Hindsight seems to bring about new clarity and wisdom,” so take time—make time—to seek clarity and wisdom to discern how God has intentionally brought special people into your life.

You might not have recognized, back then, the significance of his or her mark on your life, so dig deep into your memory to detect how God worked through those relationships and experiences to make you who you are today.

Notice the ways God has used those people to protect you, maybe redirect you, and strengthen your faith.

Start writing even before you have remembered everything, before you know where your story is going and how it will end.

Why? Because much more hides within your experience than you realize right now. Writing leads to discovery. Roger Housden says it this way:

“…[A]s much as we think we know about our story,
there is far more waiting to surprise us
when our own words hit the page.”

So, write your stories!

Write them not as a hobby but as a ministry to your family.

Writing your memoir 
is a sacred work, 
a high calling, 
a divine project.

Your kids and grandkids and great-grands need to know about the people who invested in you and guided you—and probably even kept you from doing a few stupid things. Just think: Your stories could have a life-changing impact on your readers, passing the original blessings on to future generations.

“There are generations yet unborn
whose very lives will be shifted and shaped
by the moves you make
and the
actions you take today….”

Andy Andrews