By Dawn Field
So many people have a life story they wish to share. If it’s a winning idea, the only trick is getting it down on paper. Even if you are a professional writer, it still takes effort and thought – but you’ll have the writing part down. What if you are ‘rich on living’ but new to the craft?
How do you get your story out? You can think, jot ideas down, or lock yourself in a room and start writing. It’s all great, whatever works for you is best.
You can also start by ‘talking it out of you’. This is a gentle, but sometimes emotional or scary process of putting your ideas before others to get their reactions.
While the act of writing might feel daunting, we talk all the time. Speaking your story can be transformative. What does it feel like? What does it teach you about how shareable your story is and how it should be best shared? Sharing is what a book is after all.
To be shareable your story should have a universal message and be packaged in a readable form. In terms of having a relatable message, others should see themselves in your shoes or want to be, or be scared to be and amazed you survived if it’s to be enjoyed by a broader audience.
Starting the Process with Dialogue
So, start your book with a talking session. Take a friend to coffee, grab a family member, find a stranger in the park, and practice ‘storytelling.’ If it helps once, do it again. It’ll likely get better each time as you bring ‘what you are dying to say’ to the surface. You are figuring out what your story really is and the best way to share it.
You can learn a lot from how your listener reacts. Are they engaging? Are some parts more interesting? Are they asking to know more? Are you evoking emotions? If so, you are onto a good thing.
You can also learn loads from your mental process. It’s very different to say things out loud than to think them silently in your head. You might tear up or laugh or just sit and shake your head at all that has transpired. You might deduce meanings from the facts. You might decide to drop whole topics. You might find you are scared to express certain facts, opinions or ideas. You might find you a burning even hotter to get the message out and run home to start typing.So, start your book with a talking session. Take a friend to coffee, grab a family member, find a stranger in the park, and practice 'storytelling.' Click To Tweet
Possible Elements of the Story
You can also test what people might think about being included or excluded from your story. Often issues of privacy crop up in memoirs. You might decide, or know from the start, that you want to write a novel instead, just one based largely on fact, to protect the identities of key people. The benefit of fiction is you can also exaggerate situations, fill in gaps and match the storyline to reader expectations – for example, a huge climax or a happily ever after even if you didn’t experience one.
Talking requires you to stay in a ‘bird’s eye perspective’. The biggest traditional ‘requirement’ is that a memoir has a clear ‘take-home message’. But that’s why you are telling the story in the first place, so that should be easy. It’s your place to start. If you don’t have it, find it. It’s not really worth writing a memoir without one. It will drive the entire process – it’s the ‘great idea’ at the heart of your book and all your design choices will stem from it.If you don’t have it, find it. It’s not really worth writing a memoir without one. It will drive the entire process – it’s the ‘great idea’ at the heart of your book and all your design choices will stem from it. Click To Tweet
The most important part of the story is the climax. What is it and how do you need to engineer earlier chapters to give it maximum punch? Once the reader closes the book, what will they have loaded into their memories and take away with them? What do you hope they have?
Starting to talk about the story will help shape it in your mind. All stories have a beginning, middle, and end and ‘go somewhere’. So, where does your story start? Where does it end – after the climax – what might the last words be? Often, they carry huge weight that sums up the book. Do you have a title – it too is often a clever encapsulation of the theme of the book. What are the high and low points? Mentioning one event might bring to the surface other related events. You’ll start to feel the mood and tone of the voice you will use. You’ll see connections and patterns that will help make the writing easier.
Talking Through The Big Picture
If the person is willing to keep listening, you can drop from Big Picture into more of the highest-level details. Rehearse the most important events, decisions and turning points within the story. Do they flow? Do they make sense? Does your listener have questions or perceive gaps?
Talking can save you a huge amount of time later in the book-writing process. Even in a short sitting, you can get through a whole book while talking about it. Reading even a chapter might take your listener hours — and then you still have to talk about it. There will be time for that later. Having carefully considered the value and options for presentation, will ensure it’s all the easier.
Best of all, if you take notes during your talk you’ve started writing! You have a template to start filling in. Talking gives you the confidence to write. We can all write better and faster when we know exactly what needs to inhabit the page.
Plus, written down, you can leverage your visual mind to sift and order items. You can rearrange and build up and work on patterns that are more complex that you can keep in memory at any one time.
You can return to your ‘manuscript’ at any time. Even if it’s just bullet points, you’ve started. You can file that piece of paper away in a drawer only to take it out months later. You can still start where you left off. Maybe can also judge it more objectively as ‘if it’s someone else’s story’ to see how it can best be told so readers ‘get it’.
In the meantime, you’ll be collecting up details to add in the same way static electricity sticks socks together in the dryer. Anytime you feel the need for another push, you can ‘talk your story out of you’ again in the future.
Dawn Field is a scientist now writing her second book for Oxford University Press. She has published over 50 articles on writing because she is fascinated by what makes great writing, the writing process, learning how writers create, and how fiction impacts society. She loves reading book drafts at any stage of completion, brainstorming writing projects, and hearing about the diversity of writing experiences. Connect with her to collaborate, or converse, at UnityinWriting.com.
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