You’ve finally decided your life story is worth telling but there’s the small detail that it is in fact- the story of your life. How do you tell your story without bringing down everyone around you? I mean, life can have some pretty sticky details. It’s one thing to write a fictional story about a teenager who grows up in an abusive home but it’s a whole other ballgame when it’s not only real life but your own life.
I’ve helped many authors work through the delicate details of their lives. Remarried women who don’t want their children to view their fathers as deadbeats or losers, victims of abuse who don’t want their attackers to find where they are now, and even individuals who have converted from one set of beliefs to another but have no desire to bash their previous faith.
I always tell my authors to have TMI (too much information) set as their default mode when writing through the first draft. Why? Because I can always, always tell when they are holding back information. When you write out all the details for your story, especially if it is your own life story, the best thing to do is dump out all the details like a trip to the bathroom after eating Taco Bell. It may sound like an awful analogy but for some people that is what dumping all the details feels like- horrible and uncomfortable.
If you’re not entirely convinced this exercise is relevant to your story, please refer to the blog I posted a few days ago entitled Character Development: Part 3.
When the author says,
It was still hard for me to sleep at night because of the nightmares I had to endure from my abusive grandmother.
The reader is going to go berserk with questions. “What happened?” “What nightmares?” What’s even worse is that their mind could take your words to the worst possible scenario and entirely change their view of the story you’re trying to tell. Suddenly Grandma becomes just as bad as the evil stepmother from Cinderella in their mind. Even though that was never your intention for her character.
Growing up, I always found it hard to sleep. Every night was an interrogation of myself- where was I falling short and how could I fix those areas? Looking back, I realize my grandmother played a significant part in my lack of confidence. I had so much respect for my grandmother and still love her to this day. But she had that one question which—for whatever reason—made me doubt the decisions I was making, “Why’d you decide to wear that?”
It was such a simple question. Probably an entirely innocent question in her mind as we had much different tastes in styles. How could she know the ridicule I’d been experiencing at school?
Can you see the difference between the stories? One of them paints the grandmother as “abusive” which could cause the reader to wrongfully picture grandmother as a belt-toting white-haired lady in a nightgown ready to beat someone’s behind. The other depicts grandmother as someone the author loves and respects. Someone that unknowingly caused pain in the author’s life. Even the author hadn’t realized the impact of grandmother’s words until later on in life.
Challenge for You: Evaluate your story and ask yourself, “Am I withholding details?"
I will say it once more—dump out the details! Characters have layers. In non-fiction, you are the character and you’re going to have to dig into those layers whether you like it or not.
Names can always be excluded or exchanged. ‘Albert’ can easily be labeled ‘my ex-boyfriend’. Or, ‘Albert’ can become ‘Xander’. But don’t, and I repeat don’t, exclude ‘Albert’ from the story if he is relevant to the story you’re writing and the layers that make up your character.
Tip of the Day: Dump out the details and then sift through leaving what is relevant.
#NaNoWriMo #writerscommunity #authorlife #storytelling
Nicole Donoho, owner of Teddyfly LLC, enjoys writing stories for all ages. She currently lives in Northwest Arkansas where she takes in the beauty of the Natural State with her husband, Jacob, and their three sons-Elijah, Josiah, and Solomon.
At Teddyfly LLC, we are seeking the change that we want to see within ourselves and those around us.