Five rules for Writing Life Story
by Jo Parfitt
I have written 26 books, worked as a features journalist, written columns, a blog, memoir, fiction and non-fiction and I cannot think of many writing genres where there is no need to write life story.
If you write a self-help book, for example, such as a book that inspires others to find their passion, start a bed and breakfast, move to France, beat smoking or whatever, then the facts and information you include will be enhanced by the addition of case studies about others who have done the same thing as well as stories from your own life.
Columns are personal pieces and focus on the things that happen to you, the writer, as well as the lessons you may have learned or the insights you had along the way.
A blog, like a column, very often will focus on the things that happen, to you, the writer.
It goes without saying that a memoir is filled with incidents that happened to you. In fact many claim that a memoir is made up of a collection of your stories that are connected by a ‘red thread’ or common theme.
And fiction, of course, is filled with stories, inspired by real life, with plausible characters, emotions and incidents. Writing your own life stories can be the perfect warm up for writing compelling fiction.
So, have I convinced you that everyone needs to write life story?
The good news is, that like many forms of writing, there are a few rules to follow. And once you follow those rules you will find it much easier to feel confident about what you are writing. Here they are:
Five rules for writing life story
- Write about incidents, things that happen.
- Set the scene. Let the reader be able to picture the location your story takes place. Add specific details – don’t say ‘it was beautiful’ or ‘there were lots of trees’ – name the trees, describe what you saw.
- Put people in your stories, people with character and who move and talk. Let the reader ‘meet’ those people and feel he can picture them and hear them speak.
- The best writing comes from a place of pain. Be vulnerable. Be honest and share your emotions.
- Show, rather than tell. Avoid tell the whole incident in reported speech. Instead of: he told me he had borrowed his friend’s bicycle, for a few days write “Hey, Dad, come outside and take a look at my new Raleigh!” Will exclaimed, hopping madly from one foot to the other, so that his straight brown hair bounced up and down. “It’s bright red and Harry just lent it to me for the whole weekend.”
I believe that applying these rules will ensure your stories are interesting, not just to your own immediate family and friends, but to complete strangers. The best life story writing should be written like fiction, with plot, pace and believable characters. If you think you are the kind of person, like Cherry Denman, author of her recent memoir Diplomatic Incidents (UK Edition) (John Murray), who is “happening-prone,” then do your happenings justice by following the five rules for writing life story, above.