Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Assembling Your Memoir--Linda Thomas

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor.…
You are the ruler of all things. In Your hands are strength and power.…
Now, our God, we give You thanks and praise Your glorious name.
I Chronicles 29:11-13

Now that you’ve written three or more chapters (stories), and you’ve started a running list of additional stories you’ll write in the future (you will, won’t you?!), let’s consider assembling them into a finished memoir.

The beginning and the ending of your collection of stories:

Place the following at the beginning of your collection of stories:
  • Title: for the front cover and inside on your title page. Example: “The Mountain’s Top,” by Jane Doe.
  • Dedication: (to whom you are writing these stories).
  • Table of Contents (optional): chapter titles with page numbers.
  • Introduction: state why you’ve written these stories. Let your personality shine. Include what you hope readers will take away from your stories. Sign your name, date, place, and perhaps a photo of yourself.

At the end of your collection of stories, write an epilogue, and make it a grand finale—a celebration of God. Make it personal. Leave your descendants inspiration, direction, purpose, wisdom, and courage in making life’s hard decisions.

Suggestions for your epilogue:

  • What do you envision Heaven will be like? (You might be there when some descendants read your memoir.)
  • Hymns:
    1. All the way my Savior led me

    2. God Be With You Till We Meet Again
  • Bible verses and benedictions:
    1. Numbers 6:24-25- The Lord Bless you and keep you….

    2. I Kings 2:1-3 - When the time drew near for David to die he gave a charge to Solomon his son. “…So be strong….” (See also IChronicles 28:9 and 29:19.)

    3. Ephesians 3:14-19 - … I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through the Spirit….

    4. Philippians 1:9-11 - And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more … so that you may be able to discern what is best….

Since your grand finale can be emotionally draining for both you and your readers, consider ending with a little humor. I tacked this at the end of one of my memoirs; it’s a family joke that will make my kids smile:

Matt and Karen: If I die before your dad does,
remind him to lock all the doors before he goes to bed at night.

Possible formats for your finished memoir:

  • booklet
  • published book
  • scrapbook or three-ring binder
  • a spiral notebook, empty book, or journal (in your own handwriting)

Be sure to include photos and mementos!

Dear friends, thank you for sharing the past five weeks with me. I encourage you to continue learning the craft of memoir (this was merely an overview), keep writing, have fun, and give your stories to your kids and grandkids, because “…an unfinished manuscript cannot change lives. Even a finished one cannot minister in a drawer or filing cabinet. One in published form can … go where you and I will never go, to people we [might] never meet…” (Lee Roddy, writer, speaker, writing teacher).

Your memoir can shape your descendants’ values, choices, culture, and faith, and help them find their place in your family and God’s. Celebrate God and connect His stories with those of your family.

~ Linda

[Editor's note: You must enter the Linda Thomas-inspired "Write a Memoir" Contest! See sidebar for details. Thanks, Linda, for your expertise and heart!]

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Endings. Edits. Inspiration.--Linda Thomas

“Father … You met me at every fork of the road
with clear guidance and fresh grace.
I beheld Your glory.”
~Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Quiet Moments with God

If you’re working on three stories, you already have three chapters-in-the-making for your memoir. Congratulations! That brings us to today’s lesson:

All-important endings:
Finish each of chapter with punch and muscle. Make the end the high point of your story. A weak ending could make your story fall apart and deprive readers of its richest message. Writing the ending might be the hardest part of your story.

Tips for writing endings:

1. Pray!
2. Read Cindy Blomquist's post on "Endings."
3. Review the definition and goal of memoir.
  • Why are you telling this story?
  • What is your current understanding of what God was doing?
  • Include Bible verses that illustrate and validate your story.
  • As a result of the incident and/or writing these stories, what did you learn about yourself? About God?
  • How was your faith strengthened?
  • What new person did you become?
  • Cause readers to think, ponder, smile, shed a tear, and apply your story’s lessons.
  • Remember: your stories can shape the spiritual lives of your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and other readers.

4. Take plenty of time to ponder the message you want to give readers, and make your ending pop!

Edit your work:
I’ve heard that 80 percent of what we communicate is misunderstood so we need to re-write and edit for clarity.

  • Set your story aside for several days, then print it and read it aloud. Eyes catch typos on paper that they miss on the computer, and ears hear choppy or ambiguous words.
  • Does your story make the point? (Do you know what your point is?)
  • Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Will they understand your story? Have you used lingo or “Christianese” your readers might not understand? Eliminate anything that causes confusion or clouds meaning.
  • Read Carol Brinneman's post , "The Ideal Final Draft."
  • Ask a trusted friend or writer to critique your story. (Critiquing is not fault-finding; it’s evaluating and analyzing. It’s meant to help the writer.) Many, but not all, of their comments will be valid. Revise, set it aside, re-read, and revise until you’re satisfied.
  • Polish your story and make it shine.

Next week we’ll consider ways to compile your chapters—along with the many more chapters you’ll write throughout your life (hint, hint). That brings us to...

God has been more involved in our lives than we recognize or remember, so here are ideas to inspire additional stories:

  • Who are your spiritual role models? Why?
  • How have others’ prayers kept you going?
  • What are the two most delightful surprises God has given you?
  • When have you “beheld His glory” (John 1:14)?
  • Other possible topics: your salvation; God’s forgiveness and grace; an agonizing decision; a closed door; wanting to quit; doubting God’s call; feeling put out to pasture.
  • Genesis 50:20; Exodus 4:13; Deuteronomy 33:27a; 2 Chronicles 14:11; Job 23:10; Psalm 4:8; 40:3; Matthew 10:27; John 1:16; Philippians 4:19; 2 Timothy 4:17a.
  • What are your lions and bears? Click here
  • See Carol’s blog post . Think “chapter” in place of “article.”

Next week: The grand finale! A Memoir Writing Contest! Get ready to submit what you are writing--details in next week's post!

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!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Remebering the Details--Linda Thomas

Remember, your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the Lord your God: His majesty, His greatness, His awesome power. It was not your children who saw what he did for you in your desert wilderness and how He brought you to this place. No, you saw these things with your own eyes (Deuteronomy 11:2-7, paraphrased).

We will tell the next generation the praise-worthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done … so the next generation would know … even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds, but would keep his commands (Psalm 78:4b, 6-7 NIV).

Your story is important. It can make a difference in someone’s life—maybe for eternity—however “No story has a divine right to be read” (Peter P. Jacobi). In other words, you can’t force people to read your stories so you must write stories worth reading.

How? Let’s start with leads and details.


Most writers find it easier to create a lead after they’ve written the first draft. If you wrote two or three stories last week, this week you can craft a lead for each. The lead is the first thing your reader reads. It “hooks” him, catches his attention, causes curiosity, and motivates him to read.

Since this is a min-course, (Memoir Writing Lite), here are only a few brief examples:

  • Anecdote: a short story to illustrate or personalize the point of your piece.
  • Action: a vivid word-picture of the action.
  • Quote: a quote, song, or proverb that illustrates the point of your story.

  • Scene-setting: a description of your setting that makes your reader feel he’s there; builds up expectancy, suspense.

  • Startling assertion: a shocking statement, meant to surprise.

  • Question: “Have you ever noticed that.…?” Entice the reader to think how he would answer the question.

  • A “you” message: use “you” so your reader will identify with the person(s) in your story.

  • News article: one or two sentences that answer the Five W’s – who, what, where, when, why.

  • The flashback: the most riveting part of the action starts the story, then the writer flashes back to the beginning of the experience; at that point, use the word “had” because it moves readers to the beginning.

Feel free to use variations on the above list. Catch your reader’s attention and motivate him to read your story.

Details, blessed details

Since your lead promises readers a great story, you must follow through—you must write a story worth reading all the way to the end. Details make your stories’ settings and characters come alive. Invite readers to see each scene or person as if they are living it with you. Enable readers to hear, feel, smell, taste, and see what you experienced. (Photos, journals, and old letters will help you recall details.) You don’t need to include every detail, but select details that capture the essence of that place and the person at the time of your story.

This week’s assignment:

  • Review last week’s lesson, keeping in mind the elements of memoir and your purpose in writing.

  • Craft leads for each of your stories.

  • Write details into your stories so readers can hear, feel, smell, taste, and to see what you experienced.

  • Review Carol Brinneman’s post about strong writing. All of Carol’s posts are excellent, as are Cindy’s. I also recommend Cecil Murphey’s blog, Writer to Writer.

  • Write stories that inspire readers to conclude, “What an awesome God!”

  • Have fun!

Remember: You’ll revise your stories each week so don’t worry about perfecting them yet. Re-writing is not punishment! Every good writer revises a number of times. Revision is an art: polish your stories and make them shine.


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