Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Send me your Christmas stories, Part 2

WooHooo! I’ve already received a Christmas story from one of you dear followers of SM 101, and I’m excited to read stories others will submit. How’s your story coming along?

Remember, I need to receive your stories by December 10 and I’ll pick one or more to publish here. See below for submission details.

If you missed last week’s post, Click on Send me your Christmas stories. It contains tips on character development, emotion, sensory details, and your vignette’s opening.

Today we’ll look at the importance of
  • sense of place, and
  • endings.

Your story’s sense of place: Establishing a sense of place will draw readers into your story.

“To achieve intimacy with your reader,” says Danielle Lazarin, “you have to say to them: here is your key to the apartment, here is the school, there’s a set of trees that perfectly frame the river, that’s where your friends live, your sister’s down that road.”

How do you do that? You include sensory details. What do readers need to see, touch, taste, smell, and hear?

If you invite readers into your “place,” whether indoors or out, whether in a big city or a rural spot far from any town, readers will:
  • feel they’re experiencing your story with you,
  • get to know you, feel connected to you,
  • feel grounded in your story,
  • discover the mood, atmosphere, and emotions of that place and time,
  • and, in the end, take away important lessons for their own lives. 

You’ll enjoy these words by L.L. Barkat: “. . . A writer must have passions and a sense of place. . . . The words of a region, a philosophy, a passion . . .  come with their own sounds and rhythms and fragrances.”

Make time to think deeply
and describe the culture that exists in the town or business
or church or family in your story.

Pin down the words and philosophy
and passion and rhythms and fragrances
that belong to your story.

Click on these additional posts about creating a sense of place for your story:

The importance of place in your memoir (This one includes a Christmas setting from my new memoir, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir.)

Your story’s ending: Pay attention to your vignette’s conclusion. A weak ending can make a story fall short of its potential impact, but a strong one makes a memoir shine.

That means you need to put a lot of work into crafting it.

Remember this: You just cannot write an ending that gushes, “And they all lived happily ever after.” No, you must not!

Give your vignette’s ending muscle.
Impact. Pizzazz.

Or turn it into a melody
Or a prayer.

For the benefit of your readers—and yourself—make time to discover the core, the heart, the soul of your story and highlight that in your ending.

Your goal is to write a satisfying, compelling conclusion that gives readers wisdom, compassion, courage, faith, hope, and inspiration for living.

You want to maximize the power of your vignette’s ending.

Ask yourself: 
  • How do I want readers to feel after reading my story?
  • How do I want them to think as a result of reading my story?
  • What do I want them to do and how do I want them to live because they read my Christmas story?

The beauty of your story will shine brightest at its ending.

Click on this link for help in crafting your conclusion: The beauty of memoir: Your vignettes’ strong endings. 

Be sure to look over and apply the important writing tips from last week’s post (click on Send me your Christmas stories). When you’ve edited and polished and proofread your Christmas story, submit it for consideration. I’ll be happy to edit it before publication.

Please submit a vignette that
  • has not been published before, or
  • is a story you published in the past and own the copyright.

Aim at writing 1000 words or less in a Word document sent as an attachment to LindaKThomasAuthor [at] gmail [dot] com. (Replace [at] with @ and replace [dot] with a period, scrunch everything together, and your email should reach me.) Please write “Christmas vignette for SM 101” in the subject line so I’ll know it’s not spam. Thanks.

Also please include a short author bio along with links to your website, blog, Facebook Page, and other social media.

Happy Christmas writing!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Send me your Christmas stories

Have you written a story about Christmas for your memoir?

If so, Gentle Readers, send me your Christmas vignettes between now and December 10 and I’ll select one or more to publish here.

Spiff up your rough draft (or start writing it), keeping in mind the definition of memoir (click on What memoir is: Back to basics).

Here in SM 101, we go beyond digging up memories. Within our memories, we peel back layers to discover what was going on under the surface. Search for overlooked significance. We work to make sense of what God was doing in and for and through us, and others, at the time—and what it all meant.

“Rather than simply telling a story from her life,
the memoirist both tells the story
and muses upon it,
trying to unravel what it means
in the light of her current knowledge. . . .
The contemporary memoir includes retrospection
as an essential part of the story.
Your reader [is] interested in how you now,
looking back on it,
understand it.”
(Judith Barrington, Writing Memoir)

“The author must impose a coherence
on events he chooses to include
that may not have been present as he lived them. . . .
It’s that selectivity that transforms a memoir
from a report to a reflection
which gives meaning to the events
which might not have been evident to the author
as she lived them.”
Capture sweet moments, hilarious events, personality quirks, tragic loss, courageous decisions, integrity, tenacity, or high adventure—all make for great reading.

Helpful tips:

Character development: Each person is complex. Develop your main characters’ shortcomings, redeeming qualities, beliefs, prejudices, body language, tone of voice, attitudes, and quirks.

Was he sentimental or no-nonsense? Comical or dour? Consistent or inconsistent? Gentle or gruff? Did she stand tall or did she slouch? Was he optimistic or pessimistic? Did she stress the importance of table manners? What else was important to him?

Emotions: Incorporate emotions—about happy, joyful events as well as scary things and grief. Not all stories have happy beginnings or endings.

Allow readers inside your heart and mind.

Include your thoughts—even your struggles—to understand what was happening. Write of your delights as well as your doubts. Ask questions even if you have no answers.

You’ll find tips from Method Writing and from Kathleen Pooler’s post, Evoking Emotions: The power of Sensory Detail in Storytelling.

Also bring in adventure and humor where you can. Click on How to Add Humor to a Sad Memoir, Lisa Romeo’s post about how, why, and where to include humor in a sad memoir.

Sensory details: If you want readers to enjoy your stories, you must include sensory details. Invite them to see, hear, feel, taste, and smell what you experienced so they can enter your story with you.

Don’t miss our earlier posts, Your Memoir's December Details, as well as Details: A must for your memoir. They're packed with resources for you.

Your opening: A story’s beginning can make it or break it. It can invite readers in—or send them away. Most writers experiment with many openings before they get just the right one. Spend lots of time on your opening. Some don’t even try to write it until they’ve finished the main body of the story.

Check out these helpful links about writing your vignette’s opening.  (Keep in mind these posts are about crafting the opening of an entire memoir, but they also apply to the opening of chapters/vignettes like you’re writing.)

Links about openings:

For now, go ahead and work on your rough draft. But come back next week when we’ll look at

  • the importance of creating a sense of place, and
  • crafting your story’s ending.

Here’s something to keep in mind for the future:

Please submit a vignette that

  • has not been published before, or
  • is a story you published in the past and it’s copyrighted in your name.

Aim at writing 1000 words or less in a Word document sent as an attachment to LindaKThomasAuthor [at] gmail [dot] com. (Replace [at] with @ and replace [dot] with a period, scrunch everything together, and your email should reach me.) Please write “Christmas vignette for SM 101” in the subject line so I’ll know it’s not spam. Thanks.

Ready, set, go!

P.S. Remember to come back next week
for tips on developing a sense of place for your story
as well as writing its ending.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

“Beating back the past with grace . . . and with the power of language.”

Every human has experienced pain—pain caused by bullies, or unfaithful spouses, or flawed churches, or ill-equipped parents, or egotistical bosses, or cheating co-workers, or jealous siblings. The list could go on and on.

Such experiences shape people, define people. They can result in festering wounds for years. Sometimes people can’t get over the injustice of it all.

And many write memoirs about hurt and unfairness they’ve suffered.

It’s okay to write about such experiences
  • if doing so helps you heal and
  • if your goal is to help others heal from their own painful pasts.

But you must write your story with the correct perspective and honorable motives. 

William Zinsser, one of my dearest writing mentors, says this:

“The marvel of Frank McCourt’s childhood is that he survived it. . . . The second marvel is that he was able to triumph over it in Angela’s Ashes, beating back the past with grace and humor and with the power of language. Those same qualities are at the heart of all the good memoirs. . . .”

Zinsser mentions three such memoirs, A Drinking Life, by Pete Hamill, The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr, and This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff.

He continues, “Anyone might think the domestic chaos and alcoholism and violence that enveloped those writers when they were young would have long since hardened the heart. . . .  

“Yet they look back with compassion. . . .  These books . . . were written with love.

“They elevate the pain of the past with forgiveness, arriving at a larger truth about families in various stages of brokenness. There’s no self-pity, no whining, no hunger for revenge; the authors are as honest about their young selves as they are about the sins of their elders.

We are not victims, they want us to know. . . .  We have endured to tell the story without judgment and to get on with our lives. . . .”

Zinsser offers advice to today’s memoirists writing about people who caused pain:

“If you must use memoir to look for your own humanity and the humanity of the people who crossed your life, however much pain they caused you, readers will connect with your journey.

What they won’t connect with is whining. Dispose of that anger someplace else.

Get your intention clear before you start and tell your story with integrity.” (Writing About Your Life)

Remember Romans 8:28: “We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him” (NCV).

That verse reminds me of something Chuck Swindoll said many years ago, something along these lines: “God will not waste your suffering.” That fits with this Bible verse:

I will not cause pain without allowing
something new to be born, says the Lord.” 
Isaiah 66:9 (NCV)

Chuck Swindoll elaborates on that: “Pain, when properly handled, can shape a life for greatness. History is replete with stories of those whose struggles and scars formed the foundation for remarkable achievements. In fact, it was because of their hardship they gained what they needed to achieve greatness.” (Chuck Swindoll, Insight for Today).

Read Isaiah 66:9 again, believing it is aimed directly at you: “I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born, says the Lord.”

Believe that God can use your pain and injustices
as preparation for exceptional feats and triumphs
such as, among other life-changing things,
sharing your story in a memoir.

Let’s choose our attitude and our words carefully. “Rid yourselves of . . . anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. . . ” (Colossians 3:8).

“Let your [words] be full of grace, seasoned with salt [a preservative]. . . ” (Colossians 4:6, NIV).

“Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others . . . not put them down. . . ” (Colossians 4:6, The Message).

We read this in Henri Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey: “It is so important to choose words wisely. When we are boiling with anger and eager to throw bitter words at our opponents, it is better to remain silent. Words spoken [or written] in rage will make reconciliation very hard. Choosing life and not death, blessings and not curses [Deuteronomy 30:19], often starts by . . . choosing carefully the words that open the way to healing.”

Nouwen also writes: “Often we remain silent when we need to speak [or write]. Without words, it is hard to love well. When we say to [our loved ones] ‘I love you very much,’ . . . we choose to give life.

“It is not always easy to express our love directly in words. But whenever we do, we discover we have offered a blessing that will be long remembered. . . . A whole new blessed place can be opened up, a space where it is good to dwell. Indeed, words have the power to create life.”

Write a memoir full of love, honesty, and grace.

Write a memoir that shines light on not only your own darkness,
but also shines light on the darkness of others.

Offer readers hope and healing.
Offer words with the power to create life.