Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Your memoir’s stories about Christmas

If your memoir includes stories about Christmas or events that happened in the winter, during December and January pay close attention to sensory details and plan to use them in your stories.

What sounds are typical of this season?

What flavors do you associate with this time of year?

What sights? Smells? Textures or temperatures (sense of touch)?

Jot them down for use later. After this busy holiday season, get out your rough drafts and insert those details—they’ll make your stories more vivid for readers.

Your goal is to invite readers into your story with you. Sensory details help them experience what you experienced.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The values of well-crafted dialogue in your memoir

Dialogue, written well, can accomplish your most important goals:

  • It can bring readers into your stories,
  • acquaint them with your memoir’s key characters,
  • ramp up readers’ emotions,
  • add pizzazz—or grief or terror,
  • keep up your story’s momentum,
  • share information readers need to know,
  • and entice them to keep reading.

Read more at SM 101’s blog post from 2014, Tips for using dialogue in your memoir. 

Dialogue can convey key characters’ emotions and distinct (perhaps conflicting) goals. It can reveal the dynamics between those in a discussion and convey what each values.

Add significant body language to dialogue and you will enhance your story’s message, bring main characters to life, and increase readers’ comprehension and enjoyment of your story.

Read more at SM 101’s post about dialogue from 2014don’t miss this good stuff!

Also review SM 101’s more recent posts on using dialogue because good dialogue is essential in your memoir:

After you've polished your dialogue, 
set it aside for a week or so. 
Then read it aloud
Does it sound natural? 
If not, continue polishing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Create dialogue that sounds natural

Create dialogue that sounds like the person speaking:
Each person has his own unique speaking style,
so make an effort to capture the distinct speaking style
of your memoir's key characters.
Make it sound natural.

Study these many examples at

Thursday, December 8, 2016

More tips on using dialogue in your memoir

Today we’ll look at more tips for using dialogue in your memoir—because crafting it correctly is so important. (If you missed Thursday’s post, click on Are you using dialogue the right way in your memoir?

Place quotation marks around the words people speak. (Put your silent thoughts—inner dialogue—in italics, not quotation marks.)

Use simple dialogue tags (he said, she asked) rather than bigger words like he bellowed or she whined or he scolded or she demanded. Using fancy tags instead of simple ones will distract readers—they’ll draw attention to the tags rather than the spoken words. Keep the focus on dialogue rather than tags. (For more on this topic, including examples, read this fun post, A Critical DON’T for Writing Dialogue, by Joe Bunting.) 

Delete adverbs and adjectives with your dialogue tags, such as he said arrogantly or she said bitterly.

In general, if the dialogue is only one sentence long, place the tag at the end of it.

Victoria Costello offers this advice: “If you insert a tag between two or more sentences, the tag always goes after the first sentence” (The Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Memoir). For example, compare these two:

“There are many ways of breaking a heart. Stories were full of hearts broken by love,” said Pearl S. Buck, “but what really broke a heart was taking away its dream—whatever that dream might be.”

This is the better way: “There are many ways of breaking a heart,” said Pearl S. Buck. “Stories were full of hearts broken by love, but what really broke a heart was taking away its dream—whatever that dream might be.”

Each time a different person speaks, start a new paragraph.

If two people are in a long conversation, not every line of dialogue needs a tagas long as readers know which character is speaking. To help readers keep track, occasionally include the speaker’s action. For example, the following has no tag but the reader knows who spoke:

“I must go.” Anne stood, threw her scarf around her neck, and turned toward the door.

Here’s another look at crafting dialogue without a tag, based on an example from Joe Bunting’s post. He encourages writers to: “…show…emotion with an action. Like this: ‘I hate you,’ she exclaimed she said, hurling her French book at him. The corner struck him just under his eye. A bright red mark began to rise on his skin.”

Notice two things: (a) Joe changed “she exclaimed” to “she said,” which is good, but (b) Joe could have deleted “she said” altogether. Then the dialogue would look like this:

“‘I hate you.’ She hurled her French book at him….”

I like that better. Do you?

Look over your manuscripts, 
study the way you’ve crafted dialogue, 
and make revisions. 

Your readers will thank you.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Are you using dialogue the right way in your memoir?

Dialogue is a powerful tool in writing your memoir:
  • It invites readers into your story,
  • it lets them participate in your experience,
  • it acquaints readers with a character’s personality, values, perspective, and attitude,
  • it can offer readers noteworthy information,
  • and it can provide readers with backstory—significant events from the past.

But writing dialogue can be tricky. How do you reconstruct a conversation from 50 years ago, or even five years ago?

You can’t—at least not 100 per cent accurately—because, unless you wrote it down at the time, or have a recording, you must rely on memory, and we all know memory has a way of making everything foggy.

And yet, if you call your book “a memoir,” you claim you’ve written a factual story (not fiction), and you’re promising readers they can trust you to tell the truth. So how can you use dialogue if you don’t remember the conversation precisely?

Here’s how it works: Both memoirists and readers know it’s impossible to be exact about a conversation that happened long ago. A memoirist’s job, then, is to recreate that conversation as honestly as possible—to write in such a way that readers understand the dialogue represents the conversation's true message. Determine to avoid misleading readers in every detail.

So then, use accurate dialogue, and craft it well.

Write dialogue that sounds natural and unforcedlike something you’d really hear.

If a character speaks in incomplete sentences, or if those involved in a conversation interrupt each other, or if they finish each other's sentences, write your dialogue that way: Keep it real.

If a character is hoity-toity, write dialogue showing she’s self-important and puffed up.

If a character was raised in a genteel household, write proper, courteous dialogue for her.

If he is an intellectual, choose words an academic uses, but if he grew up on a Missouri farm and didn’t graduate from high school, choose words he’d typically say.

If she grew up in Texas, her vocabulary differs from that of someone who grew up in Quebec. 

If someone habitually starts a sentence five times in five different ways, work that into your dialogue a couple of times to reveal that aspect of her personality, but otherwise eliminate those false starts.

Remember the wise old rule: Write tight. Leave out unnecessary talk—greetings, chitchat, and small talk—anything that doesn’t serve a purpose.

“In writing dialogue don’t write every word,” says Nancy Ellen Dodd. “For one, that would be boring, and two, it slows down the pacing. Write what is necessary to get the point across. That being said, you may have a character who is verbose and a character who barely completes a thought…. Keep dialogue brief and cut unnecessary words, unless the character is verbose.”

Cecil Murphey says it this way: “In real life, people speak in general, long-winded diatribes, or mention twenty things before they focus on what they want to say. In print, we need to delete the clutter and get to the point.” 

Here’s more wisdom from Cec: “Make your characters speak less than people actually do, …and speak more the way real people wish they spoke.”

After you’ve crafted a passage of dialogue, set it aside for a week or two and then read it aloud. Your ears and tongue will help you find spots that still need work. Keep polishing until you’re happy with it. In the end, it will be worth all the effort.

Spend a few minutes reading Jennie Nash’s excellent post, A Little Lesson in Dialogue.

Next Tuesday we’ll look at other aspects of dialogue so c’mon back!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Remembering and thanking

This past week we all focused on 
the many reasons we have to give thanks, 
so think about this:

Writing your God-and-you stories 
is one way to thank Him 
for all He has done for you and your family.

Extend and expand your gratitude:
Write your stories!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

“Remember,” the most frequent Old Testament command

This must be one of the saddest passages in the Bible:

They believed His words;
They sang His praise.
They soon forgot His works….
Psalm 106:12-13, NKJV

“Many churches have forgotten the premium
that the historic Judeo-Christian tradition placed on remembrance
…and recalling the right things.
The ‘great sin’ of the Old Testament
was forgetfulness
(at least it is the most recurrent offense).
Remember’ is the most frequent command
in the Old Testament.”
(Clapham Memo, January 19, 2007,
“Back and Forth,” by Mike Metzger; emphasis mine)

“Remembering requires intentionality,” writes the Christian Grandparenting Network. “It is the constant warning of prophets and patriarchs...‘do not forget,’ ‘remember!’ Why? Because we are so prone to wander and forget who God is and what He has done in the past. And that has devastating consequences.

“Janet Thompson, author of Forsaken God?: Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has Forgotten, says, ‘If we don’t remember what God already has done, we won’t believe what he is capable of doing in the future. Memory builds faith…. Most [believers] don’t intentionally forget God, they just don’t try hard enough to remember him.’

Christian Grandparenting Network continues, “God knew that if we didn’t make the effort to remember, it would take only one generation who forgets the goodness and greatness of God to completely make God irrelevant in the next generation….
One of the key roles God has given to grandparents is that of ‘storyteller.’ We are to be, not only the repositories of family and faith history, but the tellers of those histories. The Psalmist declared, ‘Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come’ (Psalm 7:18)….”

God has been involved in
your family’s life in countless ways.

Have you forgotten some of them?
What stories do you need to remember?

Remembering them will build your faith
and increase your trust in God for the future!

Make a commitment:
Schedule time to write those stories
and place them in the hands of
your kids, grandkids, and great-grands.


Because God can use your stories
to build their faith
and increase their trust in God for the future!
Yours is a sacred calling.
Enjoy it!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Telling the next generation

…I will utter…things from of old— 
what we have heard and known,
what our fathers told us.
We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
He decreed statues…
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children,
so the next generation would know them,
even children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds….”
Psalm 78: 2-7 (NIV)

This is what SM 101 is all about!
Write your stories!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Are you available and ready?

“A seed of an idea.”

Do you feel ideas sprouting up inside you, stories you need to include in your memoir?

Or, on the other hand, are you overwhelmed at the thought of coming up with ideas for writing a memoir? If so, relax. Ideas are endless!

Make yourself “available and ready.”
Listen to your silent thoughts and imaginings because
while you’re driving to work,
or folding laundry,
or getting ready for a board meeting,
or preparing a sermon,
or reading posts on Facebook,
or tucking the kids into bed at night,
or grocery shopping,
or brushing your teeth
ideas will pop into your mind.

When they do, jot them down. If you don’t have a piece of paper to write on, use your cell phone to list those ideas when they come to mind. And then pat yourself on the back, because by doing that, you’ve started your memoir!

For example, give yourself time to think about following questions if you want to write a memoir about your childhood:

  • Who was your best friend when you were 13 years old? 18 years old? 20 years old? How did those friends influence you (good or bad)?
  • What was the most unusual adventure of your childhood?
  • Who was your favorite teacher or coach or Scout leader or church youth group leader? Why?
  • What were your favorite books when you were a kid? a teenager? a college student?
  • What did you want to be when you grew up? Did that change over the years? Why?
  • What was the best day of your childhood? Why?
  • What was the saddest day of your childhood? Why?
  • What event changed your life forever (good or bad)?
  • What were your parents and grandparents like? aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors?

Like I said, the ideas are endless. Have fun exploring them. Over time, you’ll begin to notice patterns, you’ll be able to connect the dots. Then start writing your rough draft. And have fun!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit : Autumn’s sensory details

If any of your memoir's stories took place in autumn,
include a few sensory details.
Help readers join you in your story
and experience what you experienced.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

What is a memoir: Back to basics

Sometimes in the midst of writing our memoirs, we need to remind ourselves what a memoir is. This helps us focus correctly and work efficiently.

Since there’s some confusion about the genre of memoir, let’s pin down what it is not: Memoir is not journaling. A journal is private—for your eyes only—but you write a memoir for others to read.

A memoir is not an autobiography. An autobiography documents your life beginning with the day you were born, but a memoir focuses on one segment of your life—(1) a specific theme or (2) a time period, a slice of life.

We can write a memoir based on a theme—for example, the theme of working as a seamstress in Asia, or a food vender at Seattle’s Safeco Field, or a step-mother to six kids.  We focus on only that theme, leaving out other topics—such as the fact that we might be friends with Ben Zobrist (World Series MVP, in case you missed that last night) or met our future spouse at the local animal shelter.

Or we can write a memoir based on a time period. My memoir, Grandma’s Letters from Africa, covers a time period—my first four years in Africa. Another person’s time period might be his teenage years, the years following a spouse’s death, or service in the Peace Corps. We focus only on that slice of our lives and leave out other topics.

We include only those details that pertain to our chosen window of time or our memoir’s theme.

Personal reflection is a key ingredient in memoir. Remember that. Most of us need to work on understanding what reflection is because, as Richard Foster observes, “The sad truth is that many authors simply have never learned to reflect substantively on anything.”

So, memoirists reflect in a deliberate way:

We look back,
peel away layers,
find the gems.
We inspect,
examine those gems,
and ponder their deeper meaning.
We look for God’s fingerprints all over everything
We spend as much time as we need to make sense of what we discover.
We uncover the deeper, higher, wider, richer story.

In the past, we might have overlooked something of the utmost importance, so we make time to search for those profound lessons—insights, healing, blessings—that God inserted into the events of our lives.

In the process, we might need to do a “Doggie Head Tilt,” a phrase Michael Metzger coined. “If your head never tilts,” he says, “your mind never changes.” True!

Within reflecting, we answer these questions:
  • What new things have I learned about myself as a result of the key events of my life?
  • What new things did I learn about God? About significant people in my life?
  • How have these discoveries made me into a different, better person?

Writing a spiritual memoir does not require that we have supernatural religious stories to write about, stories that would make the evening news and get tweeted around the world. Instead, we look for ways God was involved in our everyday lives.

We don’t have to write about God in every chapter of our memoirs. Whether we realized it at the time or not, He was with us, busy working out His good plans for His children—and from time to time in our stories we can spell out what He was doing. And let’s do so in a winsome way, rather than sounding holier-than-thou.

Jesus said,
“Go tell your family everything God has done for you”
(Luke 8:39).

That’s why we write our memoirs!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: More info about CreateSpace

Sharon Lippincott left this helpful comment
after Thursday’s guest post by Dwight Clough.
(If you missed his post, click on Two self publishing options for memoir authors.)

…CreateSpace is a good option for those who want nothing more than copies for friends and family. You can order ‘real books’ from CreateSpace for less than the cost of printing at home and about the same as a copy shop.

You do not have to list your project on Amazon. Order as many copies as you wish from CreateSpace, then either unlist it or remove it.

Leaving it listed on CreateSpace is a good option though so you can let people who want to read it order their own copies. (You do not have to add a royalty for CreateSpace, leaving the public price the same as wholesale.) If you leave it there and don’t promote it, few will ever order.

You will need to provide tax ID information to set up an account. This is required by their accounting system, but if you receive no royalties, none will be reported to the IRS and you’ll have no extra lines to fill out on your tax return.

Many thanks, Sharon, for that good info.

Sharon Lippincott authored The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing: How to Transform Memories into Meaningful Stories and several memoirs and books. She teaches classes and workshops on Lifestory and Memoir Writing, and Writing with All Your Senses. Click here to check out her blog, The Heart and Craft of Life Writing.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Two self publishing options for memoir authors

Today we welcome back Dwight Clough as our guest blogger. 
(If you missed his post last week, 
He’s a Christian editor, publishing consultant, ghostwriter, 
Dwight custom designs services to meet 
his clients’ needs, budget, and schedule.

Two self publishing options for memoir authors

Unless you have a platform of more than 10,000 people, the likelihood that your memoir will be picked up by a traditional publishing company—Christian or otherwise—is close to zero. At one time, that was a problem. No longer. A multitude of self publishing or indie publishing options provide the perfect alternative for memoir authors.

First a caution. Many of these self publishing options are traps. They are extraordinarily expensive. They take away important rights that you should retain as an author. They promise much, deliver little. Tread carefully, and go into indie publishing with your eyes wide open.

Having said that, here are two options I’ve worked with that I absolutely love.

(1) For paperback publishing, I recommend CreateSpace.com. It’s free. (Yes, they do have paid services, but you don’t need to use them—and I never do.) The only thing you pay for is author’s copies that you order, and you are under no obligation to order any number of copies or any copies at all. You can send your readers to CreateSpace’s e-store to purchase your book and/or you can make your book available on Amazon. (They take care of fulfillment, you collect a royalty.) You can also set up your book so readers can order a copy from their favorite bookstore. And, of course, you can purchase author’s copies at a discount which you can sell or give away. You determine the retail price of your book. CreateSpace provides ISBN and bar code for free, so you don’t need to worry about that.

You will need to provide CreateSpace with your financial information so they can pay you a royalty. I’ve never had any trouble with this. CreateSpace works great for authors in the USA and Canada. It may or may not be a good choice in other countries. CreateSpace uses print-on-demand technology. Books are created when they are ordered, so you don’t need to store an expensive inventory (translation: boxes and boxes in your basement or garage).

You will need to provide CreateSpace with print-ready files for both your interior and your cover. This is where most new authors come across as rank amateurs. Take the time to study interior design, or get someone to prepare this file for you. Most self published books are almost unreadable because they are so poorly designed (not to mention poorly edited). And don’t underestimate the importance of your book cover. All of this can be created for free with free software if you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, get help.

(2) For e-book publishing, I recommend Amazon’s Kindle publishing service. Again, it’s free. Kindle is wonderful because your memoir becomes instantly available to readers throughout the world. Your readers can download free software to read your Kindle e-book on almost any device. At https://kdp.amazon.com/ you’ll need to set up a free account, and again, they will ask for financial information so they can pay you. At certain price points you can be eligible for 70% royalty; otherwise you’ll receive 35%. 

CreateSpace does offer a link in their title set up process to convert your book to Kindle. However, that process is not smooth and seamless. Or you can convert your word processing file to HTML and upload that to Kindle. In either case, you’ll need to edit the files to make your book Kindle ready. Here a basic knowledge of HTML is very helpful, because at minimum, you’ll want to include a Kindle-ready, clickable Table of Contents. Again help is available, if you need it.

I hope these suggestions help you bring your memoir to life. I would love to look at what you’re writing.

Dwight co-authored and published a memoir 
by my friend and former coworker, Forrest Zander, 

For more information on the many services 
Dwight offers memoir authors, 
visit http://dwightclough.com/services.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit - The benefits and blessings of looking back

This is one of the blessed benefits
of writing your stories:

What brave new things have you done
you looked back and recognized
what God did for you in the past?

Your stories can encourage others to do the same.

Write your stories!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Seven questions to answer as you write your memoir

Today we welcome Dwight Clough as our guest blogger. 
He’s a Christian editor, publishing consultant, ghostwriter, 
Dwight custom designs his services 
to meet his clients’ needs, budget, and schedule.

Seven questions you must answer as you write your memoir

(1) How do you define success for this project?
Do you simply want a beautiful book you can share with family and friends? Or do you want to inspire a new generation to embrace your faith? Or do you want to use your book to gain clients or ministry partners? Or do you need to sell a certain number of copies and make a certain amount of money? These are radically different goals and they require different strategies.

(2) Who is your reader?
If you’re writing your memoir for yourself, then you can write it almost any way you want. But if you’re writing it for someone else, then you need to get inside that person’s head and figure out how they think. What do they know? What don’t they know? What interests them? What bores them? How do you need to explain your message in way that will resonate with them?

(3) What is your message?
What exactly do you want to get across? The more focused you can be on this, the easier it will be to determine what fits, what doesn’t, and whether or not your book is complete.

(4) Why will your reader want to own and read your book?
What does your memoir do for your reader, and why does your reader care? Your story matters. Your message will make a difference in the lives of other people. But your message will have a greater impact if you prayerfully ponder this question. What are the benefits of your book? Be clear on that as you write, so you can add value to every chapter.

(5) How do you want your reader to respond?
Do you want your reader to embrace a certain set of practices? To support a ministry? To respond with awe and worship of God, the Maker of your story?

(6) How will you get your book into the hands of your reader?
How will you reach the readers you want to reach? How will you package and distribute your book so it gets into the hands of the people you want to reach?

(7) How will you achieve your goals?
How will you organize your time so this moves from fantasy to reality? What strengths and weaknesses do you bring into this project? What kind of help do you need, and where will you get that help?

I hope these questions will help you bring focus to your writing and add value to the memoir you are creating. I would love to look at what you’re writing.

Dwight co-authored and published a memoir 
by my friend and former coworker, Forrest Zander, 

For more information on the many services 
Dwight offers memoir authors, visit http://dwightclough.com/services 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

“The great gift of memoir”

You know from experience: A story can point a person in a new direction, can lead to a much-needed turning point for a man or woman, boy or girl. Someone else’s story can bring healing and hope. Sometimes a story makes a life-and-death difference for the one hearing it.

Think back: Whose words, written or spoken, brought you to a major turning point? Gave you courage to do the right thing? Maybe revolutionized your life?

Now think of this: Your story could do the same for others. That’s kind of staggering, isn’t it? And humbling.

Always remember: Someone needs to know your story, told in the unique way only you can tell it.

Sharing our stories is an important part of our faith: “Always remember what you’ve seen God do for you, and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren” (Deuteronomy 4:9).

Jesus, too, told people to tell their families stories of what God has done for them (Luke 8:39).

“Most of us can name one or two books we have read that changed our lives. These books often had their impact because they said something we had never heard said before, or because they treated a subject of great importance to us in a way that helped us think about it…. We all learn from one another’s stories, which is, perhaps, the great gift of memoir.” (Judith Barrington, Writing the Memoir)

Sharon Lippincott tells how her great-great grandmother’s story impacted her: In 1894, after twenty years of putting up with a drunken, abusive coal miner who failed to provide for his family, the woman filed for divorce. “Her determination to end the abuse by leaving was especially courageous in that era. She had backbone. I find this account…encouraging, and I’m proud to have such strong determination and persistence in my background. I’ll never encounter the specific conditions she faced, but her example of resourcefulness and finding a way to make the best of a situation is powerful…. If you write stories about overcoming adversity…perhaps they will encourage and inspire your own descendents.” (The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing)

You are the bridge God has placed between your family’s generations past and generations yet to come.

You might think you live an inconspicuous, unremarkable life but, through the generations, God has been writing stories through you and your family’s ordinary events. (Click on Your “Sacred stories of the Ordinary.”) 

Your stories are important. Write them for generations yet to come. You probably can’t imagine how God will use them.