Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What is Memoir?--Linda Thomas

Always remember, and never forget, what you’ve seen God do,and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren!
~Deuteronomy 4:3a, 9, paraphrased

I suspect God smiles at the word memoir and at those who write memoirs—at least our kind of memoirs. In fact, I believe He originated the concept (based on verses above and many more!) So…we’re about to embark upon a holy endeavor.

What is memoir?

Memoir is not autobiography, but the two can overlap. Autobiography starts with your birth and covers your whole life, but memoir focuses on a segment of your life—a specific aspect, theme, or time period—which you explore in depth. Our theme is Deuteronomy 4:3a, 9, paraphrased: Always remember, and never forget, what you’ve seen God do, and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren! So, what have we seen God do—for us, through us, in spite of us—that we can record for our descendents?

In answer to that, I based today's post on Matthew 6:8, “…your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (See also Isaiah 65:24.) You, too, probably recall a time God met a need even before you had time to ask. If you keep that example in mind while reading the following, it will give you some context.

You’ll need more than historical facts to convey your stories’ most important messages. Pondering, examining, unraveling, musing, and reflecting are necessary ingredients in memoirs. In the writing process, you will examine what God was doing as you see it now, in retrospect. The stories in your memoir will include your thoughts—even your struggles—to understand what God wanted to teach you and how, over time, He made it clearer to you.
  • Looking back, what did you learn about yourself?
  • Do you see a pattern in your faith you hadn’t noticed before?
  • How did the experience change your life? What new person did you become?
  • Do you now have a better understanding of God’s purpose for your life?
  • What did you learn about God?
  • How did the experience strengthen your faith for future challenges?

In summary, your stories will capture how you remember God’s activities in your life and what you discovered about both God and yourself. A memoir can be a few pages or a whole book. I suggest you aim at writing a collection of short chapters.

In coming weeks, we’ll examine options for compiling your stories, but for now, here’s …

This week’s assignment:

  • Start small: choose two or three occasions in which God acted on behalf of you and/or your family: turning points, answered prayer, decisions, the happiest/saddest day of your life, etc. (Avoid traumatic or complicated stories; you’ll learn the craft of memoir more easily if you start with straightforward events.)

  • Write rough drafts, three to five pages for each occasion. Include pertinent Bible verses. (You’ll revise your stories each week so don’t worry about perfecting them yet!) These will be chapters in your finished memoir. You can write stand-alone pieces or a series of related stories.

  • The writing books listed in the right column are great resources.

Your stories will help shape the spiritual lives of your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and anyone else who reads them (your “spiritual children”).

Your memoir could be the finest gift you’ll ever give, so pray for God’s help!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Where's Linda???

Dear Friends,

I inadvertently told our next blog host, Linda Thomas, that her post would begin today. And then she told her friends, and now, I bet everyone is wondering: "Where's Linda?"

And then, I told about 10,000 onlineMagazine subscribers the same thing today...I'm firing my calendar; it couldn't have been me.

Please come back tomorrow!
We will be posting each Tuesday for the next 5 weeks on the topic of writing a memoir.

Sorry for the confusion...

with humblest apologies,
Cindy Blomquist, Editor

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Arise. Shine.--Cindy Blomquist

I am not a teacher, but an awakener.
~ Robert Frost

I want to awaken you to the possibility of writing a tidbit of your story in the form of a spiritual essay. By me asking the question, "What is the Lord doing in your life?", how would you answer, in a written piece, consisting of:

  • a stunning first sentence,
  • a paragraph setting up your life (Act 1),
  • an inciting incident (God's shining principle vs. your dull reality),
  • the body that unfolds your struggle (Act 2),
  • the climax (your spiritual breakthrough/transformation), and
  • the final paragraph (Act 3), elegantly crafted that does not end with " and as you can see, 'all things work together for the good.'"

The challenge of the spiritual essay is trying to convey your story so effectively that you don't even have to quote Scripture. Jesus told spiritual stories by way of parables (sans Biblical references). Am I saying don't quote the Bible? No. But what I'm trying to get across is let your story speak for itself--the unfolding of events, your honest stirrings. You have to trust that if Christ is living in you, then He will most certainly come across in how you live out your story. That's how you capture the essence of "what is the Lord doing in your life?" on the page.

Be believable. Wrestle with God...in front of all to see. Once you commit to writing your story, commit also to telling the truth/Truth. Avoid the tendency to "preach" at your readers. If you want to convey a story of trusting in the Lord, just tell the story. Let your audience draw their own conclusions. Nothing is more satisfying than being moved, on my own, by a spiritual story. I love it when I can see the Truth too.

So, wake up! Tell your story; that is my hope with writing these four posts. Know what you are going to say. Plot out how you are going to say it. Draw us in with a captivating first sentence and then release us with great care with your last. Be honest. Be believable. And believe that your story, as simple as it may seem, has power to impact others. As the writer Flannery O'Connor said, "When the book leaves your hands, it belongs to God."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night...The End --Cindy Blomquist

I find that most people know what a story is
until they sit down to write one.
~Flannery O'Connor

Don't bother submitting an article to me with a weak first sentence. If you don't grab me with your first line, then I'm on to the next one. And if you close your article by quoting Scripture...for sure it's in the dumper. Does that sound a little harsh? (Especially since Women of the Harvest loves to nurture and grow new writers.) OK, I don't have that mentality, but your readers do!

As you plot out your article, make sure you pay attention to the beginning and the ending of your story. Please spend time here or else your reader will do one of two things: 1) not read your article, or 2) be totally dissatisfied by the time the last sentence is read that they just might throw it in the trash. Sorry.

In this age of I've-got-a-lot-to-do-so-don't-waste-my-time, you must grab your audience immediately. Draw your readers in with your first sentence. How do you do that? Be provocative: Missionaries are the most entitled group of Christians. Say something that flies in the face of the norm: Getting sick was the healthiest thing that happened to me. Break open a taboo and say it out loud: My husband beat me last night. Don't be boring. I repeat, "Don't be boring."

As I alluded to in my first post, my biggest pet peeve with articles submitted to the magazine is a weak last paragraph. Why? Because I need satisfaction: a well-paced ending gives me closure and makes me feel good about my investment in reading the article. A bad ending is like a car cruising along in the fast lane about to pass up its appointed exit, only to make it by crossing three lanes of traffic without looking to see what catastrophes have occurred by this abrupt and careless behavior. Don't be that kind of writer (or driver). Allow yourself the time to wrap up your article by drawing in all that you have just said. Reiterate your thesis. Evoke a call to action. Tell me about the transformation that resulted. Drive your point home without crossing 3 lanes of traffic at 100 mph.

And please, oh please, don't use a verse from the Bible to wrap it up...more on that next week when I write my final column on writing about spiritual topics.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Plotting the Story in You -- Cindy Blomquist

The last thing one settles in writing a book is

what one should put in first.
~Blaise Paschal, Pensees

Have you decided what it is you want to write about?

Donald Miller, in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, states, “A story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. If a story is going to be good, the protagonist has to face stuff she doesn’t want to face.” Working cross-culturally has probably given you many incidences of having to face your fears. What are those? Could you develop one of those fears which you have courageously faced into a story?

If you know you have a story in you but can’t quite come to any conclusive direction or underlying message, perhaps you have not lived it out completely yet. Give that story time to cook.

But if you know exactly what it is that you have settled on, let’s proceed. Let’s give your story some structure by plotting it out. The “three-act” structure is one of the simplest and most universal ways to tell a story.

Three-Act Structure:

  • Act I is your setup, where you show your protagonist (you, most likely) going about her daily life, and set up details which will become important later on.

  • The Inciting Incident, Plot Point I, is the event that drags you into another, more exciting world.

  • Act II is the act of developing the story. This is the chronicle of the troubles the protagonist faces.

  • Plot Point II is the event that is the point of no return; this will cause the protagonist to draw upon what she has been learning when the confrontation/climax occurs.

  • Act III is the final act, the confrontation, climax and resolution.

This structure can work with informative pieces as well. Say you want to write about how to learn a new language.

  • Use Act I to set up why you have to learn a new language.

  • Plot Point I is your inciting incident: you just found out you are pregnant, thrusting you into a new world (medical) of needing to communicate well quickly.

  • Act II will now chronicle your ability to learn quickly, the frustrations of communicating with doctors, and the stress of just being pregnant.

  • Plot Point II is the point of no return: going into labor in a foreign land.

  • Act III will be the birth of your baby and how you tie it into your theme of language learning: did you accurately convey the proper words at the proper time; did the stress of needing to learn a new language actually have a positive outcome, how were you transformed?

Remember: conflict is good, lots of conflict is even better. And at the end of the story, having faced all that conflict, you (the protagonist) must be transformed. Your transformation, "the last thing you settle on," will be the driving force behind the story you are plotting out.

P.S. I found this video on developing a story for movies using the Three-Act structure that might also be a help to you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0yqUmedyOM

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Let's Write a Story: Yours! --Cindy Blomquist

The thing about writing a story in real life and on paper is half the effort is just figuring out what the story is going to be.

~Robert McKee, author of the"screenwriters' bible,"
Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting

As you read this blog with all its great tips on writing--use action verbs, avoid cliches, just do it--I am curious: Are you writing?

Or are you stuck? I have great ideas swimming around in my head with a few even captured in my journal; but to write something formally, well, I can't quite narrow it down to what I want to say.

Well! I'd like to walk you through the process of writing a good story (yours) in the next month by offering some things I've been learning along the way as Editor of the WOTH onlineMagazine. I may not know all the nuances of writing--I'm learning all the time; but what I do know is a good story when I read it. I hope to pass on inspiring information and a few of my personal writing pet peeves to you. For instance, my biggest pet peeve with articles submitted to the magazine is a weak last paragraph. (More to come on that in an upcoming blog.)

First assignment: Figuring out what the story is going to be.

May I suggest this question as a prompt: How's it going out there?

I start my Editor's Podcast for the magazine posing that question because I truly want to know the answer. The response to my question is usually answered by way of submitted articles.

So narrow it down this week to what your story is going to be with an answer to the question: How's it going out there in your corner of the globe?

~ Cindy Blomquist, Editor of the WOTH onlineMagazine with aspiring young writer, "Coffeebean," daughter of Coffeegirl, writer/ blogger.


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