Tuesday, July 13, 2010

If Your Heart Ached, Make Your Reader's--Linda Thomas

“You (God) are to receive the glory for Your grace at work in me . . . .
What will people learn from me about how to deal with difficulties,
how to have courage in problems,
and how to express joy when circumstances are frustrating?
What will others learn about Your peace and hope?”
~Lloyd John Ogilvie

“May I share what I’ve learned from You without pious superiority and the lessons of life without arrogance…. I want to point away from myself to You – the Author of my life story.”
~Lloyd John Ogilvie

We learned last week that since we can’t force people to read our stories, we must write stories worth reading, and we looked at accomplishing that with leads and details. This week we’ll take rough drafts from boring and generic to vivid.

Write with pizzazz (avoid blah words):

Instead of “red,” write crimson, scarlet, or fire-engine red. Instead of “flower,” choose daisy, rose, or sweet pea.

Use specific action words—verbs that describe a precise motion—rather than a generic word that shows little to readers. Instead of “walk,” choose shuffle, prance, tiptoe, strut, or lumber.

Show, don’t tell:

Avoid telling readers, “She was beautiful.” Instead, write details as you saw them—details you want readers to see—so your readers conclude for themselves, “She was beautiful!”

This is telling: “Doris, always flamboyant, arrived smelling of strong perfume.”

This is showing: “Doris burst through the doors, glided around the room hugging everyone, even strangers, and left us swathed in billows of Estée Lauder’s Beautiful.”

In an early draft of Grandma’s Letters from Africa, I told: “A hippo stampede thundered through our camp the first night.” Later I replaced those 10 words with 139 words of showing: what I heard, thought, asked myself, did, and felt. (Wordiness is not the goal, though; be concise with your details.)

Include your emotions, feelings, and thoughts:

You want readers to feel your emotions, thoughts, joys, and struggles. Show, don’t tell: Instead of writing, “I was afraid,” describe your fear. Rather than “I fell in love” or “I was homesick,” describe those using concrete details. If your heart ached, make your reader’s heart ache.

Writing about emotions, feelings, and thoughts in a “show, don’t tell” fashion can be difficult so I recommend you try this: With paper and pencil in hand, find a quiet time to mentally relive the event—to feel again your emotions, ask again your questions, shout your praises, weep in gratitude, sob in grief. When you’re back in that moment, write!

Other tips:

• Write as if you’re having a comfortable, personal conversation with your reader.

• Avoid jargon, especially “Christianese.” Instead of “I’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb,” explain in everyday words what that means. Explain even words like “repent.” Write in such a way that your readers discover your deepest message.

• Make ’em laugh and make ’em cry.

This week’s assignment:

• Review lessons from week one and two.

• Revise your stories based on today’s lesson. Remember: re-writing is not punishment. Make your stories shine.

• Start more rough drafts, or at least jot down a few notes. Each will be a chapter in your finished memoir.

• Pray for God’s help so readers will know about His character, trustworthiness, and grace, and more about their own relationships with Him.

• Have fun!

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