Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Using Storytelling in Non-Fiction Writing

Remember when you were a child and bedtime rolled around; one of the things you probably said to your parents is, "Read me a bedtime story." As children, and yes, as adults, we love stories. We enjoy connecting with the characters, imagining the scene, and experiencing the events unfolding on the pages. 

Stories are the elements of a book that connect us to the content. Even for non-fiction books, such as textbooks, how-to, or self-help, examples are the stories that help readers connect to the content. Including an example is one of the most successful ways to keep your readers' interest, give depth to your writing and bring home a point. A book full of dry facts will hardly keep the attention of readers, but spicing it up with examples, pictures, and humor will increase your readers’ imagination or explain a difficult statement. Often, the example will be remembered long after the text is forgotten, especially if a strong connection between your book and the reader is established.

One of the greatest roles you play as an author is that of a storyteller. This role is particularly important when writing non-fiction. There are several ways to flex your storytelling muscles when writing in the non-fiction genre. Here are a few:

Examples or anecdotes are designed to teach or explain concepts, persuade or avoid  ambiguity. In your writing make your point, and then follow with an example that explains or justifies your point. 

Case studies, statistics, or quotes from a notable source give credibility to your account and give credence to your role as an expert. Offer details of the situation, challenge, solution, and results to tell the story of success or improvement you want readers to learn.

Humorous stories, or those that pull at the heartstrings, make a big impact on readers. Be sure your main point comes across in the story.

Photos, diagrams, or illustrations are visual elements that can add interest or further explain your text. A picture paints a thousand words and can often drive home a point quickly that may take many words to explain. Keep graphics near the text to which they are relevant. Label diagrams, illustrations, or tables clearly, and always quote the source.

Animated pictures or videos are great for electronic pieces, and can be interactive. Also, hyperlinks to relevant websites are excellent for adding interest. 

There is no limit to using the above elements, but a smart author knows when enough is enough. Above all, keep your readers in mind.

What storytelling elements have you used in your non-fiction book? 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What Are You Giving?

I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver. ~ Maya Angelou

On this day before Thanksgiving, you might expect me to write about how we should all be thankful for what we have, and we should live a life of gratitude 24/7/365. That’s true, but I’m not going there. Or, maybe you think I’m going to hound you about taking the time to write and work on your book project in the midst of cooking and eating and entertaining. Nope. Not gonna do it.

What I really want to share with you is this: be the GIVING in Thanks-giving. Yep, it’s just that simple. Everyone else is focused on the THANKS part of the holiday, as well they should be. It’s good to be in a place of gratitude, not just on Thanksgiving, but always. But tomorrow (and really, you might as well start today), I want you to focus on giving.

So, what do you have to give?  

Admittedly, I’m not a great gift giver. I struggle with deciding on the perfect gift for the people on my shopping list, whether it’s for birthdays, thank-yous, Christmas, or some other observance. Should I buy them something cool, something practical, or whatever’s hot in the marketplace? I know it depends on the person, but the gift thing gets me every time. So, what I try to do now is to give based on a few things I learned in an awesome book called The Five Love Languages. This has become one of my all-time fave reads. In the book, Dr. Gary Chapman shares five ways that people express and interpret love. These are the gifts that we should give year round. After all, if you’re going to take the time to give a gift, it might as well be thoughtful and be conveyed in a way that the recipient can interpret correctly. Chapman’s love languages are:
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch
What’s your love language and what are the love languages of those to whom you are giving?

Get your mind off of the costly tangible things and consider the valuable intangibles that your gift recipients would truly appreciate. When you give these types of gifts – those of your heart and soul, those that are lasting and precious and unduplicatable – then you are truly GIVING of yourself. And believe me, the THANKS will come from both the recipient and you, the giver.
I don't think you ever stop giving. I really don't. I think it's an ongoing process. And it's not just about being able to write a check. It's being able to touch somebody's life. ~ Oprah Winfrey

So, what are you giving this holiday season?

My gift to you this Thanksgiving holiday is to offer 50% off of all of my author coaching packages. That’s right; half off my regular prices. I’ve never offered this gift, and unfortunately, I can’t extend the offer much longer. Click here to take advantage of this deal right now! It expires at midnight on Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back to the Basics: Start Journaling

Journaling is a journey. Many people think that journals hold only the ramblings of a budding teenage girl or the memories of a senior citizen. Yet, journaling is much more than simply intermittently jotting down one’s thoughts and feelings. Journaling, when done with a purpose, is the journey of self-discovery.

One thing that has helped me enjoy the journey of journaling is that, for the most part, writing comes easily for me. I realize that is not the case for everyone. However, I believe there is a writer in each and every person, including you. Maybe the writer in you has been suppressed for various reasons. Perhaps, harsh criticism by a teacher was all it took for you to decide that you were not a writer. Maybe, throughout high school or college you found it difficult to express yourself effectively in writing. Perhaps someone laughed at a poem you wrote or a supervisor rejected a proposal you worked painstakingly on. Whatever the reason you might approach writing with diminished enthusiasm, now is the time to move beyond that trepidation. Now is the time to discover you through your writing.

My book, Write Your Life: Create Your Ideal Life and the Book You’ve Been Wanting to Write will help you navigate the what, when, how, and why of journaling. The ultimate goal is to create—even if on paper only—your ideal life. This journal can help you heal from your past hurts, discover the authentic you, see into the future, and dream freely of what you truly want.

Beyond the personal, psychological, and emotional benefits of journaling, you can learn valuable techniques to help you write the book you’ve been wanting to write. We each have a book inside of us that is meant to be birthed, a story that is destined to be told. Telling that story is a process. It takes time, nurturing, and creative focus, not to mention determination and vision. The impact of your book on your readers is more about your passion and authenticity than about how skilled a writer you are. Granted, every book should be well written. Books should respect the time-honored techniques of good writing and the cherished art of storytelling. Whether you plan to write a memoir, an autobiography, or a how-to book, using this journal will develop your writing skills and help you discover your voice, your style, and your story.

Through journaling, you will experience your book unfolding. In fact, that is what the Write Your Life journal is designed to do. As you write your life, the journal will become a framework for your book. That way, you’ll have half the battle won before you even realize you’ve started writing your book.

Journaling is a process that should bring you pleasure and lead to power within. Learn the pleasure, power, and process of journaling to create your ideal life, and the book you’ve been wanting to write. Begin the journey and enjoy the ride!

Excerted from Write Your Life: Create Your Ideal Life and the Book You’ve Been Wanting to Write.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Meeting of the Minds

Michael N. Henderson (l) and Ken Thomas (r).

It’s always fun to see genealogists get together and discuss their research. What’s great is the energy and collaboration that sparks between the two. I was “the fly on the wall” when Michael N. Henderson and Ken Thomas met up at the Georgia Family History Expo today at the Gwinnett Center. 
Both were featured on the PBS TV series History Detectives. Ken’s show aired in 2004 and Michael’s segment was out just last year. Click here to watch.
Ken is a member of the board of the Georgia Genealogical Socety, and heads up the Georgia Professional Genealogists. He’s a wealth of information.
Michael is the first African American in Georgia inducted into the National Society Sons of the American Revolution. He was recently elected as President of the Button Gwinnett Chapter, Georgia Society, SAR.
Meeting like minds and making connections are just two reasons to attend expos and conferences related to your interests. This includes attending events for writers and aspiring authors.
What conferences do you plan to attend in 2012 to help move your book project forward? Now is the time to make plans to invest in yourself.

Using the Story Sphere

Today, I’m enjoying the crowd and the activity at the Georgia Family History Expo being held at the Gwinnett Center. Family history researchers and genealogists (professional and amateur) have traveled from near and far to learn the latest techniques to discover the secrets of the past. 
I’m encouraged by all of the information available to help researchers tell their family’s stories. In fact, I gave a presentation yesterday -- “Write Your Life: How to Turn Your Research Into a Compelling Book.” 
The group was quite receptive to the idea of approaching the task of turning research into a book, particularly the story sphere I shared. This story sphere includes the basics of storytelling:
  • Theme: the core of your story 
  • Characters: the who of the story. In this case, characters are your ancestors and other individuals who impacted the lives of yourancestors.
  • Situation: the what, or the event that greatly impacted your ancestor.
  • Setting: the where, meaning the town/city, area, or venue where your story takes place.
  • Time frame: the when of your story. The year or era during which the activities took place. 
  • Motivation: the why, or the reason your ancestors did what they did.
  • Outcome: the end result, the moral,lesson, inspiration

The group enjoyed a great exercise where we created a family history story based on the above elements. Our theme was “victory.” From there, we created characters--a general, his two sons who were soldiers, and two slaves. The situation was that the general was taken captive in a prisoner of war camp. All of this happened in Georgia during the Revolutionary War. The motivation of the sons and the slaves was to free the general prior to his execution. And the outcome was that the general was saved. Of course, this story would have to be based on facts and documents discovered in your research. 
As it turns out, parts of this story ring true. Click here for the story of Revolutionary War patriots Kate and Jack, who actually did rescue Col. Stephen Heard, who later became a governor of Georgia. 
What a fun exercise! 

What story can you create based on the family history research you've done?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Telling Your Family's Story

Family stories make great memoirs or even historic fiction. There is rich information in the ancestry of practically everyone. Stories of loss, hope, love, victory, struggle, unity, success, and more tug at the heartstrings of readers and give you, the author, a better understanding of your family’s past. For family history researchers and genealogists, or even for those who have collected a wealth of family lore over the years, the stories of ancestors provide an insight into their lives, the period in which they lived, and sometimes, an understanding of life today.

But how do you know when you’re ready to write your family’s story? It can be difficult for family history researchers to know when the time is right to tell a family’s story. For those with a desire to tell their family’s stories, there is a way to know when you’re ready, and there are methods to help build the story once you get started. 

This is what I will share with the audience this Friday, November 11th at the Georgia Family History Expo. I will present a session titled, “Write Your Life: How to Turn Your Research Into a Compelling Book.” Here’s a peek at what I’ll cover:

You know it’s time to write your family history story when:
  • You can’t stand NOT to write it
  • The characters (your ancestors) “haunt” you in your sleep and while awake
  • You imagine experiences your ancestors might have had
  • You create endings to stories of which you know only certain information
  • You think about the characters and the story all the time
  • You talk about the characters and the story all the time
This is the point at which you gather your research notes and begin writing. There is a method to crafting a story so that you tell the important parts, guide the reader through the story in a meaningful way, and share the moral or lessons you intend.

Here are some steps to get started telling your family’s story, because after all, getting started can often be the hardest part:
  • Decide what story you want to tell ... and stay committed to THAT story. 
  • Consider which story resonates most with you (characters, circumstances, outcome).
  • Get out of reseracher mode (for a time). Otherwise, you’ll keep finding information to add to the story and you’ll never get it done. This is what I call the “one more thing” crutch.
  • Decide on the genre (subgenre): fiction (drama, romance, mystery, paranormal/mystical); or non-fiction (memoir, autobiography, biography, spiritual, inspirational, how-to, self-help).
  • Define the theme ... keep the main thing the main thing. Here, you get down to the least common demominator of your story.
Attend the Georgia Family History Expo to learn more tips that I'll share with the audience! I hope to see you there on Friday, November 11th. I will also be blogging from the expo, so if you attend and have a story to tell, stop by the bloggers area; I’d love to speak with you. And if you can’t attend, visit this blog during the two-day expo to experience the event through my eyes.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

5 Areas to Address When Preparing to Write Your Memoir

Everyone has a story. Haven’t you heard me say that time and again? I truly believe it, and I believe that we should all tell our stories, in whatever genre we choose. But when it comes to people writing about their life experiences in the form of memoir or autobiography, many people – women especially – get stuck. They don’t get stuck because they doubt their writing ability or because they hit the brick wall of writer’s block. They get stuck because they don’t want to tell the gory details. You know, all of the intimate details of what they did, whom they allowed into their lives and why, results of the bad decisions they made, and what they lost in the process. 

I’ll admit, it can be scary to tell all of your stuff. But I’m here to let you off the hook. Ladies (and gentlemen), if you want to write an autobiography or memoir, you don't have to tell all of the details ... unless, of course, you want to. Readers want to know how you made it through the tough times and what you got out of it. They most likely don’t want to know to truly ugly details of your awful experiences. So rest easy knowing that you can leave the gory, embarrassing details to the celebrity tell-alls.

This is what I plan to share in my talk this Saturday at the Woman of Wow luncheon in Jonesboro, Georgia. I’ll share with the women that writing their life is about healing and freedom, for themselves and for their readers. It takes courage to tell your life story. But it also takes addressing these five areas to get to the place where you can effectively tell your story:

Get over the guilt: What do you think should happen to guilty people? They should be tried, convicted and sentenced, right? Well, that’s what you do to yourself when you wallow in the guilt of your past. Release the guilt.

Stop the shame: One expression of fear is shame. When you’re ashamed of yourself and your actions, you're afraid others will find out and judge you. Release that fear.

Fastforward forgiveness: Releasing others and yourself from the burden of unforgiveness lifts a huge weight off your shoulders and your mind. Change the way you view the situation and determine that you will no longer hold a grudge about it.

Cultivate confidence: When you are not certain or assured of who you are and what you know, you have difficulty telling your story. Find your point of confidence for today and stand firmly in it.

Learn the lesson: Life is all about lessons. This is what your readers really want; they want to know the lessons you learned from all the stuff you went through. So focuson the lesson when you write your life.

I’ll go into more of these steps during my talk. I hope you’ll join me this Saturday, November 5th from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Lovejoy Community Center in Jonesboro, GA for a wonderful afternoon of fellowship. Click here to register