Writing Tips

Editing a Draft Memoir or Family History

Editing an Early Draft of a Memoir, Biography or Family History   
Here’s some questions to guide your review of an  early draft of a scene, or any nonfiction writing. These questions will focus your attention on story flow and structure, rather than the picky details of grammar and sentence structure. Leave those for the penultimate draft and, for now, apply these questions to a piece you’re reading for someone else, or to your own writing:

• Are character traits revealed through their actions, thoughts and/or dialogue (rather than author “telling”)?
• Was there too much (or not enough) back story/explanation?
• What’s at stake for […]

Where to Start Writing Family History or Memoir

Where to Start with Writing Memoir or Family History
You’ve got a story that snaps with vigor in your imagination—but you can’t seem to get started writing. Sound familiar? This is the issue—above all others—that stymies students in Annette’s and I’s writing classes. We explored some of the usual causes for ‘writers’ block’ (and solutions) in a post: http://thescribes.ca/1271-2/. The most common gremlin among these is being stumped by where the narrative should begin. Consider this:

There’s a lot riding on the first few sentences–and, indeed, on the first chapter–which exerts pressure. We must captivate readers right from the start, but the perfect sentence(s) and story flow can […]

Structure Memoir and Family History Around a Theme

A ‘Theme’ Identifies the Heart of the Story
Theme is a nebulous force. You know what the story is about: Jane leaves Bill for another — and finds she’s made a mistake. That’s the ‘Premise,’ but the theme underlies that. It’s the essence of the story–what it’s really about; its purpose; its core.

Maybe the theme is redemption? That sounds clichéd but there’s a limit to the number of themes possible, so this is the one place you can indulge in cliché. And you won’t get caught because theme is never overtly stated.
Here’s some theme possibilities: https://kathrineroid.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/100-themes-challenge-writing-prompts/

(Writing a premise precedes identifying a theme. […]

A Premise is the Recipe for Your Story

Plan Fiction & Nonfiction Writing in a Premise Statement

What is a Premise?
It’s an overall summary, expressed in five or six concise sentences to capture the essence of your story. It’s an illuminating planning tool and later a polished version may become part of your pitch to a publisher.

As a story plan, it saves time, giving your writing direction and focus. You can test your ideas in this shorthand version, probing the premise to see if it contains the makings of a compelling read. And it helps you envision the whole project, from beginning to end.

Writing the premise is important no matter your […]

Writing Blocks

Things That Keep Us From Writing
Annette and I pose questions in every series of writing classes about what blocks people. Here’s some common gremlins and solutions:

• You’re too busy. Solutions: Everyone is. Dedicate a specific time daily (or at least weekly) to write and stick to it. Maybe you have to rise at 6:00 a.m. to write for an hour a day?

• You’re overwhelmed by a mass of research, ideas or memories. Solutions: Plan the narrative: make a chronological list of events; write biographical character sketches (which may include yourself); put a point form list of scenes into tentative order; write the […]

Find an enduring audience for your life story

Is There an Audience for Your Life Story?
Have you ever been trapped in a front row seat for a relative’s unedited slideshow? The one where he pauses at every image, whether blurry or nice, skipping back and forth from Spain’s high plateau to its beaches, from flamenco dancers to dinner in Barcelona—at a rambling pace made even slower by arguments with his wife about whether they ate paella or steaks that night. At about midnight, when your chin is propped on the arm of your chair, he announces there’s just a few more to go.

What happened here? You certainly won’t be […]

Readers Want Engaging Characters

A Writer’s Primary Story Hook is Engaging Characters
Post by: Annette Yourk, October 2015
No subject in itself, however fruitful, appears to be able to keep a narrative alive. Only the characters in it can.–Edith Wharton.
You can collect (or in the case of fiction, create) a thousand facts on the characters you’re writing about, but facts don’t make a character; not one your readers will eagerly embrace. You may know your characters back to front, but do not spin out a character summary. Readers will relate to your characters the way they meet people in life – a little at a […]

Writing about childhood memories

Childhood Reflection Can Deliver Deep Insights
A Nonfiction Writer’s Exploration of Self

Guest Blog Post by Joy Inglis (nee Carter)
If you are looking for writing material, unique and fascinating stuff that only you have access to, you can do no better than to explore your earliest childhood memories. I am 96, and at this age it is like looking down the wrong end of a telescope to visualize the first incidents of my life. I recommend this experimental use of internal resources to writers who may be caught in the wave of extreme aging which is predicted to wash over all of […]

A glimpse into The Sage Hill Writing Experience.

Superb Summer Writing Retreat  
At night I go to bed exhausted and full. Mornings I wake up smiling and reach for pen and paper or laptop at an ungodly hour. Between intensive sessions of writing, critique, revision, development; opportunities to decompress with a walk, alone or with like-minded others, on the prairie.

 All day long: thoughts, characters, scenes, complications, red herrings, right words, wrong words, recalcitrant sentences, corpulent paragraphs, dropped threads.

Caught up in these atmospheric whirlpools and wind sculpted cloud surges, we co-habit with each others’ swirling ideas and visions; trysts between language and vocabulary; arguments between situation and story. […]

Fiction Writer’s Book Has Applications for Nonfiction

A Stellar Book about Writing Fiction (& Nonfiction)
Write Away, One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life, Elizabeth George
This slim volume by Elizabeth George, creator of the Inspector Linley series, is the best I’ve read to date about writing fiction–with lots of applications for nonfiction too! My co-blogger Annette Yourk often cites this book—so I put it on top of my summer reading stack. And she was right. George has a clear and articulate voice, with ideas based on her own successful practice and lots of teaching.

George runs through all the big questions, from what’s at the heart […]