Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Writing Nonfiction’

Tips for Writing Memoir (to make it fun)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Memoir, Writing Nonfiction on May 7, 2017 at 11:00 am

Writing a memoir that reads like fiction is tricky.

This requires taking real life experiences and fitting them into the story arc of beginning, middle and end when life typically is episodic without story structure.

There, however, may be episodes of life that work within the arc when you, the main or point-of-view character, face an obstacle and overcome it through your internal strength and motivation with some lesson learned toward the end of the process.

The requirements for writing memoir:

Writing a memoir requires you to make yourself into a character with physical, spiritual and emotional descriptions. You have to face yourself and think about what matters to you, what affects you, what hurts and helps you and why you are who you are.

You look back on your past self/selves and, through the process, come to a different understanding of why you did what you did or what you were thinking at the time.

The self reflection, description and analysis may break you as you put yourself into words and see what you were avoiding when you were just living and trying to deal with whatever life put in your path.

As you take yourself apart to find the words and then the story, try to remember the emotions, events, contents and the feel of scenes from your life. Think about what people weren’t saying. What does their non-spoken dialog, such as body language, gestures and facial expressions, say? What do your non-spoken parts want to tell, not just others but yourself?

Beside the emotional affect that writing about the self may have on you, also consider the reader.

Here’s some more advice for writing memoir:

• Leave out things that interfere with the flow of the story, because readers want a story with thematic cohesiveness, not a diary or journal with too much incidence and detail. Don’t assemble a scattered collection of scenes and vignettes that don’t create a cohesive and complete story.
• Try writing memories into scene form and if you end up with a lot telling, go back and rewrite the scene with more action and detail. Trust your memory to recount the gist and emotional truth of your experience to write the scene and see if there are any recurring images, phrases, themes or metaphors. Use these to dig deeper.
• Track the action that drives your story and ask what the story is that you’re trying to tell. Begin as close to the climax as possible to find the driving narrative that moves the arc.

Thinking of the reader is the last part of writing about the self, because it starts within as a seed that grows outward. Once you find that external place where the words go, then you can bring in others who are outside to give them a glimpse of your inside.

Nonfiction Writing Tips (to make writing fun)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Nonfiction on April 30, 2017 at 11:00 am

Writing nonfiction, unlike fiction, requires sticking to the truth as close as possible.

It’s like wearing something skintight—you can stretch what happened and make up a bit of dialog, but you have to admit, too, that you are writing from memory, while also trying to keep to the truth.

Creative nonfiction, memoir and personal essay are all forms of nonfiction, in addition to all of the categories found in the bookstore from history to science that stick to the facts. Other forms of writing like self-help and inspiration combine experience with ideas and advice, while also giving the writer’s truth. Business and money management books give that advice, all with the goal in mind toward self-improvement.

To be a truthful writer, while also being creative and imaginative and still employing the storytelling elements of fiction, can be a challenge. Storytelling involves telling a story from beginning to the middle to the end with the climax and resolution tying the story together and the character and plot arcs moving the story along.

The characters change as they start out with a want and at the end gets what they need, which is the character arc. Their actions and behaviors through the unfolding of the story give the plot art.

Other storytelling elements include setting, dialog, the voice of the narrator and the detail and description. To bring in those elements while telling the whole story requires combining the art of writing fiction with telling the nonfiction’s truth.

With that in mind, here’s some advice for writing memoir:

  • Make yourself into a character with physical, spiritual and emotional descriptions.
  • Employ storytelling techniques of fitting your story into the story arc of beginning, middle and end and avoid telling everything from birth to death and showing how life typically is episodic without story structure.
  • Leave out things that interfere with the flow of the story, because readers want a story with thematic cohesiveness, not a diary or journal with too much incidence and detail.
  • Show how you, as the point-of-view character, face an obstacle and overcome it through your internal strength and motivation with some lesson learned toward the end of the process.
  • Try writing memories into scene form and if you end up with a lot telling, go back and rewrite the scene with more action and detail.
  • Make sure you follow a particular theme or main subject to tell the story in a cohesive manner. To do this, identify the patterns of your experience and select what is relevant from your life.
  • Lastly, show you’ve changed and grown from your experiences, how you were affected physically and emotionally by those experiences and how you found meaning and insight from them.

Here’s advice for writing a personal essay (a personal essay represents what a writer thinks or feels about a topic or describes thoughts, feelings and emotions related to a personal experience):

  • Write in the first-person point of view.
  • Structure it in various ways, such as a list, a question-and-answer form, a story or a scattering of musings.
  • Make sure to provide a main point, or a message or theme, such as providing meaning through a lesson learned or the outcome of personal growth and development.
  • Avoid lecturing, sermonizing or moralizing.