2003, 2004, 2005 & 2006: Named one
of the 101 best Web sites for writers by Writers Digest Magazine.
Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you always need story. Where does the best story come from? The essence of really good story usually comes from a struggle you have faced in your own life. You can write about the heart of the problem or struggle with first-hand knowledge and retell the resulting discoveries or transformation that occurred.
In her book, Pen on Fire, Barbara DeMarco-Barrett writes, “The more difficult your childhood, the more misunderstood you were, the more likely it is that you will become a writer.”
Your personal stories and anecdotes can be used for humor, healing, help and hope. I use personal stories mostly in my community interest column. I find that if I can help the reader relate to me on one level or another, I maintain their interest and build my readership. This helps to sell newspapers and keep me employed. So it’s a win-win.
Reel in your readerAuthor Steven James, lists the 5 R’s needed to capture and keep the reader’s attention. James says to keep it real, relevant, ridiculous, relational and respectful. Engage the reader by weaving these elements into the fabric of your story.
At a writers' conference last year, James said, “The key is to never let yourself be the hero.” Better common ground between you and your reader? Stories that show when you were the mistake-maker, the mess-maker, and the one who fouled out.
Some of my most widely-read columns have been when I turned the mirror and laughed at myself. Yes, a mother of adult-aged children, I thought it was a perfectly bright idea to try ice-skating without any lessons or padding. Hmm. Yes, I went to interview a Latino man thinking the eight years of Spanish I had taken in elementary and high school would automatically reemerge in my brain. Yes, I cut my finger while peeling potatoes, and managed to squeak out, “I… stabbed…bleeding…” on the cell phone to my husband, who was in another country at the time, before passing out. (Tip to self: Add neighbor’s phone number to speed dial.)
Readers got a good laugh and passed the column around to friends and family. Weeks after an article appears, strangers will stop me on the street, recognizing my face from the paper, to say how much they enjoyed reading the column and how it triggered a memory to a similar story in their own lives.
Story startersTry one or two of these story starters and see where it leads:
► Learning humility….you thought you knew what you were doing, but failed…
► Risk taking…you stepped out on a limb, and it broke
► Lessons learned…ever pay a high price for wisdom?
► Letting go…discuss the difficulties of losing a friend or relative
► Decision time…write about a time when you had no place to turn
► Messing up…take your mess and find the messageTIP: Start your story with an action: “When I handed in my resignation, he…”
As a writer, you can masterfully mix internal and external struggles to draw out drama in your story. Be sure to keep all the sorrow and tears, mixed feelings, and fears imbedded in the story. Your authenticity will open readers’ hearts and minds to what you write.
Draw from the deep well of your own experience for stories that can be used to lead the reader to your conclusion.
In the case of my above mentioned stories, more
folks took to the frozen pond near my house this year, several of them
bringing helmets and wrist-guards, a continued education course in Spanish is
booked solid at the local community center, and I no longer peel potatoes—I
am not allowed. Happy story writing!
Tama Westman writes the Off the Page column for Write From Home. As a correspondent and columnist, she publishes news articles, feature stories and her column, Cuppa Thoughts, regularly with her local paper, the Chaska Herald. She has served as the editor of the award-winning literary magazine, Haute Dish. Her articles appear in several local newspapers and, nationally in The Gathering and Light & Life Magazine.
She teaches creative writing and poetry classes with the AHEAD program (Achieving Higher Education and Dreams) at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, MN, mentors high school journalism students, and teaches beginning and intermediate writers at conferences throughout the country. Married with two grown children, she keeps her balance with a cup of tea taken in the afternoon in her English garden. Further samples of her writing can be viewed on her Web site, http://www.tamawestman.com feel free to e-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org