Sunday, July 29, 2012

What’s the story?

Everyone who writes hears the advice: write what you know. In fact, I believe that even when the story seems completely manufactured, it is still based on what the writer knows. What makes the difference is how the writer interprets what he or she knows. That is the writer’s voice.

Many people just love a good story, know one when they read it, but never think they can put one on paper. Everyone has a story, and everyone can tell a story.

Many writers begin with what is basically a memoir, a story constructed around some period of time or event that has remained in the writer’s mind and life.

One of the reasons for writing a story is to share what the writer has learned or experienced. Every day brings knowledge and challenges, rewards and penalties, if only we take the time to look. And all of that can be described in words. Writing is a way of preserving the experiences that make a life.

How many times have you thought that you would like to know more about your parents or grandparents: how they grew up, the tests and prizes that life brought, the happiest and the saddest times they experienced? Others will want to know the same things.

Memoirs often turn out to be stories that find resonance with people who have never heard of the writer, but trying to tell your story to a wider audience doesn’t have to be the reason for writing it. You should write your story to preserve it for those who come after, for your children and their children and so on. That is what storytelling is about. It began before language began, when fire was new and human life began to move beyond waking, hunting, eating and sleeping. The first writers used pictures not just to commemorate an event, but to leave a record of it for those who came after. It was a long time before words became writing and writing became history, but always, always, the urge to preserve and pass on what happened, why and how and to whom, has been part of the human story. It should be part of yours.

Begin with a simple notebook, the kind you used in school perhaps. Begin with your earliest memory. This is, after all, your story, so it should be about what you remember. Along the way you may find an event or memory of an event that is so singular that you will recall details that will help tell the story more fully. You don’t even have to try it out on family members. Let them read what you have written if you want, but if that is not something you want to do, then just write for yourself, and to leave something behind that is uniquely you. If nothing else, writing your story will help you understand it.

What’s the story?

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