There are a number of simple things that can be done to write a good story. Yet how many times have you suffered through someone’s terrible telling of a story? You read and read and eventually wonder, “What’s the point?!” Here are a few things you can do to make certain no one every thinks that about your storytelling.
1. Evoke Emotion
A good story evokes emotions, for the writer and for the reader. It’s that simple. Simply state the facts and it will be boring. You don’t want your memoir to bore your readers to death. Tell them about your struggles and triumphs, your dreams and despairs, your ups and downs. If your culminating message is one of survival, your story will be an inspiration. It will tell your readers if you’ve been able to overcome life’s challenges and survive they can, too.
Storytelling expert Nancy Duarte says that:
A good story compares what is to what could be, moving the listener into a physical reaction — a quickened heartbeat, a laugh, a tear — that motivates them to cheer for the conclusion.
In this way, people see how you made changes in your life and are inspired to do so in their own lives.
2. Hook Your Reader Early On
Compelling storytelling follows what is called the narrative arc. If you think about your favorite book or movie — it doesn’t matter if the story is fact or fiction — you’ll see that the reason you like it is because it follows this arc. It starts with some introductory information but quickly involves a “hook,” something that grabs your interest.
If you write, “I was born here, on this date, and went to Kindergarten here, and then graduated from high school….” there is no hook. No one cares. “Why” is the important question. Why should your reader care? They don’t know. You have to tell them. You have to evoke some emotion, some investment in your story. Instead you want to say, “When I was in Miss Lane’s 1969 Kindergarten class singing ‘Ring Around the Rosie,’ I had no idea my life would someday lead to the adventures I’ve had. Or that I would somehow survive them.” See how that works? Much more interesting. You need to draw the reader in quickly. Then they care about the rest.
Think of it like this: You watch a murder mystery on TV. The gory murder always happens early on. That’s the hook; you want to know whodunnit. Then the whole show builds to the climax of solving the mystery and finding out who was that dirty culprit. Your memoir can do the same thing, but preferably without a murder.
3. Put Pictures in Their Minds
A good story puts pictures into our minds, images that can be recalled to remember the story.
Without an engaging hook, those images that create emotion, to capture five-year-olds’ interest, they won’t sit still long enough to absorb anything. That doesn’t change with adults. Except we don’t have to sit there impatiently squiggling around. We have the freedom to just leave, or toss out that boring book.
Educators Kieran Egan and Gillian Judson agree about emotion. In the essay “Values and Imagination in Teaching” from Educational Philosophy and Theory they emphasize the power of emotion:
The images we form in the mind from words are unlike anything else we are familiar with…. We can form images of smells and tastes…. These mental images usually, perhaps always, have some emotional quality attached to them and can have, thus, a powerful impact on us.
They contend that stories give learners context that allows for an emotional bond, which gives meaning to facts and events.
4. Let Your Story Tumble Out onto the Floor
Remember that in times gone by verbal storytelling was the only way that people had of passing down their meaningful traditions and events. We need to get back to that notion of valuing personal storytelling in order to honor our ways of life. And to offer appreciation for life itself.
In his novel Ireland, Frank Delaney explains it this way:
But the old stories, told by traveling storytellers round the fireside on winter evenings — they came hurtling straight down the long shiny pipeline of the centuries, and the characters, all love and hate and fire, tumbled out on our own stone floor.
That’s what you want your story to do. You want it to seem as thought you’ve landed right at their feet. So after the opening and hook in your memoir, you build your story to a crescendo, a peak, of storytelling. This is the main point. It’s why it’s so important to know your purpose for telling your story. Tell about your life in chronological order after pulling out the hook, ultimately leading back to the point of your hook.
5. Reveal Your Purpose
Okay, so maybe you think your life isn’t all that interesting or adventurous. You can’t come up with a hook. That’s poppycock! Of course you’ve survived some kind of adversity. That’s part of life. And you’re still here. So think again.
Did you ever fail something in school? Did you ever suck at a sport? Has your heart ever been broken? Have you ever been miserable at a job? Do you owe money? Have you gained weight? How’s your health? Have you ever had an accident?
We’ve all overcome something. Let your readers, who could be your future descendants, know that you made it through and they can, too. Give them the real skinny on your life, not just the surface niceties.
6. Give Them Hope!
In the end, you wrap up your story with a brief affirmation that you made it. If you haven’t made it at the time of your writing, reveal your plan — or at least your wish — for making it. Conclude your memoir with a message of hope, again drawing out that emotion.
Now, start writing…