We all have fabulous essays of how we lived, laughed and loved. Some humorous — others — poignant. Will your children wonder what you saw when you pressed your nose against the window of your childhood home? When you were seven, were Saturday mornings a time for play or chores? What’s the story behind Aunt Kay’s crazy elephant collection? Here are a few tips to inspire you to share a unique gift — your engaging stories.
Begin with an idea.
• Describe your childhood best friend and a favorite activity.
• Tell a story about when you got into trouble. What did you learn?
• Complete these sentences: The most joyful day ever was when ...
Just for fun I…
This time I followed my heart…
• Describe meeting your spouse for the first time.
• Share something profound you learned from a child, a pet, a complete stranger.
• Share an inspirational story of an answered prayer or divine intervention.
• Reflect on something you’ve put off, will you accomplish it in the next year?
Begin by simply putting your history on the page. Don’t worry about being eloquent. Don’t worry about punctuation or grammar. Just get your thoughts down. Write what you saw, what you heard, and how things smelled. Include your emotions. Be authentic. And, use these writer’s principles to make your stories memorable.
#1 Show, don’t tell.
Using sharp verbs and showing action brings stories to life. For example, instead of saying Dad arrived home in a happy mood (telling), you write, "Dad burst through the garden gate with a generous smile and a bouquet of crimson dahlias in his hand."
#2 Make each word, the right word.
When writing a magazine article, I wanted to describe an angry teenager. But the word angry didn’t fit the situation well. I looked in my thesaurus but still couldn’t find the right word. A few days later I was reading Readers Digest’s Word Power and came across sullen. That was it. I jumped up and turned on my computer and replaced angry with sullen which means resentful, sulky and sour. Perfect!
Finding the best word to describe a mood or action can be a challenge. Words have textures, tints and shades. Take the time to check a dictionary and thesaurus to find the right one for the picture you are painting. For example, when describing color use navy, periwinkle or sapphire instead of blue. Find interesting words, but don’t use long or difficult words—just to use long and difficult words. Most readers won’t dust off their dictionaries to read your story; they will lose interest quickly if they don’t understand you.
#3 Clear the clutter.
Next, you can improve your writing by eliminating words that clutter. Instead of: She replied in a very soft manner; use, she whispered. And watch for redundancy; it is not small in size, it’s small. Also avoid wordy expressions. William Zinsser in his classic book, On Writing Well says, "There’s no need to say, ‘At the present time we are experiencing precipitation.’ " How can we simplify? It is raining, or possibly it is drizzling, or maybe we’re in a downpour.
Set your work aside for a day or two and then read it out loud and ask, "Does my writing sound pleasing and natural? Have I included interesting details and chosen the best words possible? What can I eliminate?" You may wish to read to a friend and ask for advice. Then rewrite and reread. Now is also the time to look for and correct punctuation mistakes.
Perhaps you’ll write several stories and put them together with photos for a gift loved ones will cherish. Or maybe like me, you’ll write a story each year and send it along with your Christmas cards. If you wish, you can self-publish your own book online. You hold a wonderful treasure — a library of fascinating history, humorous anecdotes and life lessons. Why not share; you’ll entertain and encourage your family and friends in their life’s journey.
Ready to write your legacy? Brittany Park will be hosting a writer’s group soon. Please call if you have an interest in joining us.