Thursday, March 29, 2018

This is a big deal: “The world’s greatest wisdom passes through stories”

Do you worry about influences on your kids, grandkids, and great-grands?—influences that lure them away from your best hopes and dreams and prayers for them?

Less-than-stellar influencers bombard today’s young people, enticing them to live and believe in ways that could diminish them morally, spiritually, personally, mentally, and relationally.

Today’s kids are listening to the stories of movie stars, singers, comedians, the press, educators, athletes, politicians, authors, friends, and paranormal characters in books and movies.

If you worry about the stories your kids, grandkids, and great-grands listen to, how about telling them your stories?

There’s a good reason the Bible is full of stories. There’s a good reason Jesus told parables.

Never doubt the power of stories! Kathy Edens writes, “Research proves that stories and anecdotes help people retain information better. Forbes reported most people only remember about 5-10% of statistics you cite. But when you accompany your stats with a story, the retention rate bounces up to 65-70%.”

Wow! Did you know that? That’s impressive.

If you want to teach your grandkids the importance of telling the truth, for example, you can say to them, “It’s important to always tell the truth, and you can get yourself into tons of trouble if you lie,” but your words will probably go in one ear and out the other.

OR, you can tell them a story—a story of how you, or someone you know, learned the importance of honesty, and the consequences of dishonesty.

Your stories can teach your kids, grandkids, and great-grands so many important things—about keeping a commitment, being faithful, working hard, being kind.

Your stories can teach them to handle tragedies with tenacity and faith.

Your stories can help them choose courage over fear, generosity over stinginess, compassion over meanness, thankfulness over ingratitude, and so much more.   

 “The world’s greatest wisdom passes through stories,” writes Kathy Edens.

Think about this:

The world’s greatest wisdom
can flow through your stories!

If you’re still not convinced of your stories’ importance, here’s something else for you. It’s staggering, really.

In fact, this is a big deal.

In his New York Times article, “The Stories that Bind Us,” Bruce Feiler explores, from a secular perspective, what makes families healthy, resilient, happy, and functional.

He writes that Dr. Sara Duke, a psychologist working with children, discovered that while all families have struggles, “The [kids] who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges,” she says.

Fascinated with Dr. Sara’s findings, her husband, Marshall, also a psychologist, and his colleague, Robyn Fuvish, did their own research on how much individual kids knew stories of their family’s history and its members—parents and grandparents, for example—and how much they knew of their family’s struggles as well as its triumphs.

They came to what Feiler calls “an overwhelming conclusion: The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their own lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”

Shortly after that research, the United States experienced the attack on September 11, 2001, and Dr. Duke and his team checked again on the children they’d studied. None was directly impacted by the terrorist attack yet each one, like the rest of us, still suffered trauma. Nevertheless, “Once again…,” Dr. Duke found, “the ones who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.”

Don’t miss the rest of Feiler’s article, “The Stories that Bind Us.” You’ll find that youngsters who felt the most connected to their families—through stories of both ups and downs, and of their determination to survive and thrive—were the kids who could handle challenges and overcome obstacles in healthy ways.

There’s a good reason Jesus said,
“Go tell your family everything God has done for you”
(Luke 8:39).

That means you need to tell your stories!

And this is important: Avoid writing stories that are dry. Or dreary. Or preachy—avoid a “holier-than-thou” attitude.

DO write stories that include humor, adventure, mystery, romance, pets, childhood escapades, teenage pranks, athletic competitions—the list could go on and on.

We are storytellers,” writes Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros. “With the help of God, it is up to us to steward our calling and steward it well.

Think about this:

What stories have been entrusted to you? 

And perhaps even more important: Who has God entrusted to you?

And are you stewarding them—caring for them—to the very best of your ability?

“…Everyone needs writers
every child, every woman, every man—
to bring out these hidden truths
that lie dormant in us and help them
live what truly matters in life.
Writers have all got to work hard
at this occupation—
for the glory of people
and our most cherished beliefs and ideas.
To fight to ignore all the distractions
and take the time to share our stories
and unpack their meaning and messages….

It’s the most important job in the world.”

Be good stewards of your experiences and stories.

Do what Jesus said: Go tell your family all God has done for you.

Your stories could be life-changing for those who read them.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The value of photos: Brains process images 60,000 times faster than text

Wow! That means photos reach readers in ways your words can’t.

Photos add depth and dimension to your words.

They foster intimacy with your readers by introducing them to your memoir’s important people. Photos can help a character come alive. The right pictures let readers tag along with your family or companions. Pictures can even enhance a reader’s sense of attachment to you and your main characters.

Photos also allow readers to live within your setting, your geography, your building, your culture, your weather, and in your action.

Photos, then, make you, your main characters, your setting, and your experiences more relatable, more memorable

Danielle Lazarin writes of the impact author Stuart Dybek’s I Sailed with Magellan had on her, saying that the book took her, “a Jewish girl raised in the ‘80s and ‘90s in New York City, who’s never touched the waters of Lake Michigan, [and enabled her to] see some of herself in his boys in Chicago. He . . . did a bang-up job of showing me around, so that I felt like a local, comfortable and sure of where I was going.”

That’s precisely what you want to do with both your words and your picturesshow your reader around, convince him he’s a local.

Pictures can multiply such opportunities for readers.

The right photos can yield big results. They can help your stories stick.

In other words, photos offer readers opportunities to enter your story, to experience it alongside you, and feel involved.  

Do you want proof? This is fascinating: Check out Karen Keagy’s account, “Vintage Photo.” Do a little experiment: Don’t look at the photo until after you’ve read the whole story.

While you read, picture yourself living her story with her. Afterward, let yourself study the picture: Notice how much the photo enhances Karen’s words. (How cool was that?)

Photos can reach readers in ways your words can’t
so be sure to include key photos in your published memoir.

Have you decided where, in your memoir, to place your photos?

If you self-publish, you’ll decide which ones to include and where to put them.

Some authors group them together in the middle of their memoirs.

Others place their pictures at the end.

Other authors scatter images throughout their memoir.

Which is best?

Where you place photos . . . will influence how readers appreciate your story…. There is in reading and writing a phenomenon called ‘suspension of disbelief.’ If I as the reader am constantly saying, ‘This is only a book. This isn’t happening as I read,’ then it impossible for that reader to get ‘lost in the story.”

Our goal as writers—and as designers of our layouts—is to avoid suspension of disbelief and, instead, to invite readers to live the story while they read. Strategic photo placement can help readers get “lost in the story.”

If we place photos throughout the memoir, within the chapters/vignettes (instead of grouped together in the middle or the end), we will increase readers’ likelihood of entering our stories—almost like seeing events on a movie screen, but better.

Photos can help readers learn from your story, remember it,
and change in positive ways because of it.

So plan ahead:

Which photos will you include?

 Where will you place them?

Do you have additional tips on photos?
If so, leave a comment below or on SM 101’s Facebook Page.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tuesday Tidbit: Beware of using high-resolution photos in your ebook

You’re probably planning to publish your memoir as a book, but Joanna Penn encourages you to also publish an ebook because, she says, “I made 86% of my book sales income from ebook sales. There’s more profit per book because there’s no printing or shipping [charges]. Readers can also buy immediately…. If you don’t have an ebook version, you’re missing out on a chunk of readers and revenue.” Read about more reasons to publish an ebook in Joanna’s post, How to Self-Publish an Ebook.

Beware, however, of using high-resolution photos in your ebook. Joanna advises, “If you have lots of images in your book,… you will have … a bigger file size, and although ebooks are typically free in terms of delivery, Amazon does include a delivery cost in their pricing setup. That will be higher if you have a bigger file, and images can really expand the file size. If your delivery cost goes too high, you’re not going to make much royalty.”

Darcy Pattison says it this way: “…My profit is being eaten up with Amazon’s delivery fees. In a recent month, I calculated about 20-25% of the gross receipts for my ebooks went directly to delivery fees.... 20-25% in delivery fees! That’s outrageous! The culprit is the file size of a . . . full color illustrated picture book.”

But you want high-quality photos and illustrations, right?

My grandson on the pitcher's mound
So what should you do?

Joanna suggests using a small number of photos in ebooks but posting lots of others on your website/blog and Pinterest. Other pros also encourage using Instagram. And then there’s your Facebook Author Page as well.

But you have other ways to work around the problem. Darcy Pattison offers a very detailed how-to in her post, How to Format Pictures Books for Kindle and ePub3.

It’s a long post and I confess I haven’t read it in its entirety, but believe me, when I’m ready to publish my new memoir as an ebook, I will pore over Darcy’s post. It appears to be a valuable help for all of us.

For now, look over Darcy’s post, How to Format Pictures Books for Kindle and ePub3. She offers you a rich resource!

And do not miss Sharon Lippincott’s post, Photo Scanning Tips for CreateSpace. It’s packed with information you need to know!

So there you have it, your Tuesday Tidbit.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

“Each photo has a prologue, a theme, and an afterword.”

He held up just one. “Of all your pictures, this is the one that makes me tear up.” He went on to tell a whole story related to that one picture.

Powerful. Don’t you agree?

And my daughter Karen said this upon looking at this old picture taken at the home of our friends, the Randles:

“I remember that day, and it looks as fun in the picture as I remember—the sweetness of childhood, friendship, and ice cream. And the foggy beauty of contentment and excitement from long ago. I remember the color of the floor inside, the voices of moms, the sliding back door, and the thrilling smell of someone else’s bedroom and toys, and the tingling of imagination, and ‘Let’s pretend….’”

A few years ago, my kids and I messaged back and forth about the next photo of my son, Matt, holding a piranha (piraña) he had just caught in South America:

Matt: “Nice. I still have the teeth from that very fish. Sweet hair, too.”

Karen: “I love so many things about this photo.”

Mom: “Me, too, Karen—the Branks’ house, the steep hill, the basketball hoop.”

Karen: “…the hair, the facial expression, how un-steep the hill looks now….”

Matt: “Hill still looks steep to me.”

Mom: “The sunburnt, blistered, peeling nose, the gigantic freckles.”

Using that one snapshot and the memories it stirred up, I wrote this in my soon-to-be-published memoir (working title, Please God Don’t Make Me Go!):

The three boys [Matt, Glenny, and Tommy] went fishing, too, catching pirañas and barracudas. One day Matt came home with a piraña on a line dangling from his hand—a piraña more than ten inches long. A dead piraña. “Let me take a picture,” I called, running for my camera. 
Then Tommy and Glenny’s dad, George, moseyed over to inspect the prize. “Ah,” he smiled. And paused. Did I catch a hint of a gasp? 
 “Those teeth are sharp enough,” George said, “and those jaws powerful enough, to slice off a man’s finger with just one bite.” 
 And suddenly I looked at my son, and myself, through different eyes. What kind of mother would let her child do such a dangerous thing? I tried not to make a scene but couldn’t help glancing at Matt’s fingers. They were all there. I could only pray silently, Thank you, God, for keeping my boy safe. 
 But Tommy, George, and Glenny took it all in stride. “Now Matt,” Tommy said, “cut off its head and bury it in the dirt. Come back in a day or two. Only the jaws and teeth will be left—ants will eat everything else. You’ll have a great souvenir.” 
 Tommy turned to me. “You can fry that fish for dinner. It’ll have lots of bones, though.” We did, and it did. But that was okay. The memories were worth it. All these years later, Matt still shows those razor-sharp teeth and jaws to his daughters and nephews.

Julie Silander writes, “As we crack open the dusty albums of our memories, we take a few minutes to stroll through the snapshots that comprise our lives. Each picture has a story. A prologue, a theme, and an afterword.”

Julie also finds words for what you and I know so well but might not want to admit: “We would like the smiling snapshots to represent the total picture of who we are. Yet there is more….” How true.

While you read what Julie says next, think of a specific photo related to your memoir. Better yet, hold it in your hand while you read:

“Veiled behind the surface, there is always a deeper story. The argument that happened hours (or minutes) before the picture was taken, the deeper ache just below the surface of the smile, the unexpected turn of events that was to come just around the corner.”

What is your photo’s prologue?

What is its theme?

What is its afterword?

What is the deeper story that pops out of your photo?

Give yourself plenty of time to ponder that deeper story and,
when you discover it, put it in writing!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

How one old photo led me to write a memoir

Let me tell you how an old photo led me to transform a scrapbook into my soon-to-be-published memoir.

Like I was telling you Thursday in The power of pictures, years ago I put photos in three-ring binders—photos from three years our family spent in South America when the kids were just starting school.

I also typed stories from letters I’d sent my parents, adding them to the photos.

I thought the story was finished—until one day I noticed something in one picture, something I hadn’t noticed before.

It was a picture I took on day one at our new home in South America and it’s always been one of my favorites. I had made copies of that picture and passed them out during speaking engagements. And I had framed it and hung it on the wall. A magnet holds another copy on my refrigerator.

But one day, long after I’d assembled the scrapbook, I saw in that photo something deeper and broader. The earth lurched when I recognized it, and I asked myself, Why did you never notice this before?

After thinking it over, this became clear: In the letters to my parents, which I had based my stories on, I never told them about the scary stuff.  

That meant the narrative in the scrapbook was a list of selected facts, just the everyday surface stuff.

And with that realization, I knew my story was not yet finished.

That photo foreshadowed stories that made ongoing international news—events that touched our family and friends and changed many lives forever.

I had a bigger, deeper, richer story to write—a story about hostility from guerrilla groups—their bombings, ongoing threats of violence, kidnappings, and murdersand what God and courageous people did in the midst of it all.

And now those stories will soon be ready to publish as a memoir. (Its working title is Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go!)

Enough about my discovery and my story. What about you?

Did you examine one or more key photos related to your story?  

Reread our previous post, The Power of pictures, and peel back layers, asking yourself:
  • What is the deeper story behind this photo?
  • What is the bigger issue?
  • Does the photo symbolize or capture a theme in my memoir?
  • Does it contain a secret or solve a mystery? If so, do others now need to know about it? (If someone would benefit—if that would help heal an old wound, right a wrong, or bring forgiveness or hope—think and pray about revealing it.)

Maybe you still haven’t pinned down 
the real meaning
the central idea, or message of your memoir. 

Perhaps a photo will help you discover it.

For a few days, 
think about a key photo and what it represents
It might hold more significance than you now realize.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Power of Pictures

Photos play a big role in your memoir: Among other things, they help you, the writer, remember details. But they can also help you recognize big stuff, like your memoir’s theme.  

Don’t believe me? I discovered something profound in an old photo, something I’d never noticed before, and it propelled me into writing my soon-to-be-published memoir.

Dig out a key photo related to your story. Take a few minutes to examine it and jot down what comes to mind.

Let’s start with the easy stuff: 
  • When was the photo taken?
  • Why were you in that place?
  • What did you do there?
  • What was the weather?
  • Who was with you? If a main character in your memoir, note his or her relevant characteristics: physical appearance, quirks, tone of voice, attitudes, values, talents, endearing qualities, maybe even odors.
  • What emotions does the photo stir up?
  • Jot down sensory details: What did you smell? What did you hear? Taste? Touch/feel? See?

Next, dig deeper. Look at those photos with fresh eyes. Read between the lines. What’s lurking (or percolating) under the surface? What are the vibes? Is there an elephant in the room?

  • How did the event or place or that person in the picture change you?
  • Or prepare you for the future and make you the person you are today?
  • Or warn you?
  • Or inspire you?
  • Or make your dreams come true?

But don’t stop there. What’s the bigger picture?

Does the photo symbolize or capture the theme in your memoir? That is, the central idea or meaning or message. A memoir’s theme is about the big picture. Ask yourself, What is my story about?

For a few days, think about your photo and what it represents. It might hold more significance than you now recognize.

Years ago, as keepsakes for my kids, I compiled photos of our family’s three years in South America, and the stories that went with them, and snapped them in three-ring binders.

I assumed I had tied everything together and that the story was complete. But I was mistaken.

“Sometimes you think a story is completed
and all wrapped up.
But then, decades later, something happens
and you realize that it’s not done yet,
it’s still in process.”
Lawrence Kushner, 

Decades later, I looked at one of the photos—one of my favorites, one I’ve framed, one I’ve used in speaking engagements. That day I looked at it and saw something I’d never noticed before.

Why had I never seen it?

And suddenly I knew there was much more to my story than what I’d included in the scrapbook for my kids.  

I had based those stories on letters I’d written to my parents from South America, but those accounts were just the facts. Just the surface stuff, the day-to-day events.

Here’s what the snapshot showed me: It foreshadowed stories that made ongoing international news—events that touched our family and friends. Events that changed lives, forever.

The photo begged me to write additional stories, much bigger than the ones I’d already written, and make them into a memoir.

Come back next week and I’ll tell you how that ordinary old photo took my three-ring binder accounts and transformed them into my soon-to-be-published memoir, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go!

Between now and then,
look at a couple of photos pertaining to your memoir.

Perhaps you, too, will find clues that shout,
Your story is not yet finished!

My photo of Mt. Kilimanjaro as seen from Kenya

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Tuesday Tidbit: We have no idea where our writing will take us

Mick Silva finds that his writing “is prayer and it’s abiding and it’s getting away to be alone with my Inspirer, the anchor of my life.”

Henri Nouwen recognizes that same type of prayerful abiding:

Is prayerful abiding a part of your writing?

Perhaps you’ve already noticed: When we start writing, we have no idea where our memories and ponderings and writing will take us.

Prayerful abiding can make a significant difference in our writing.

It can open our eyes.

Prayerful abiding can change how we hear.

It can adjust the way we remember.

It can transform our hearts.

Prayerful abiding can help us recognize the bigger, broader, higher, deeper story.

In those ways, prayerful abiding can change our stories.

Be a listener.
Listen to the Spirit.
Hear that deeper sound, that different beat
and write your stories.

Be a listener.
Listen to God’s guiding, healing voice
and write your stories.

And there you have it, your Tuesday Tidbit.