This formula will help stimulate your brain when thinking about past events by focusing on:
FACT: The actual facts of whom, when and where
FILL: Fill in the details of the physical scene and the characters involved
FEEL: Your perception of people, places and events using anecdotal stories
With the ‘Fact, Fill, Feel’ Formula, start with the basic facts of dates and places, build on this with descriptions and details about people and the role they played in the scene, finally, discuss your feelings and the relationships through anecdotes or examples.
Genre - develop the main style of a story
What genre is your story?
Classic observation – describes a situation first-hand and uncovers its unique characteristics
Historical observation – through artifacts, historical events or archeologists
Immersion – living in a different life, culture, country
Adventure or survival – an exciting trip or event that went wrong
Humour – any genre, but with your personal and humorous perspective
Major dramatic question – how to create a plot
Write a short summary, or 10 bullet points about your story.
Is there an obvious main theme, or reoccurring event, in your story? A theme could cover: religion, self-discovery, food, extreme living, confusion about a different culture, falling in love (with a person or place), survival, good overcoming evil, the power of human nature, and many more, even combinations.
A plot is the road map of your story, it is what happens and in what order.
Will your story be chronological? Start at the beginning of the timeline and work your way through to the end. You could use a journal or diary style.
Is the story a quest? You could start with the ordinary world, then, discuss the major conflict, how you dealt with the conflict, and finally, return to the ordinary world as a changed person.
Adventure or survival could start in the middle of the excitement or turmoil, then go backwards to the beginning to explain, then back to the present. Moving around in time helps to keep momentum and excitement.
Use your particular expertise, humour or passion to describe a place; this can portray everyday experiences in a completely new light for the reader.
Write as you talk
Writing as you talk is a good way to start, use the same words and expressions as your everyday speech. Imagine you are telling the story at a dinner party with friends. Your voice is animated, the tone fluctuates, and you speed up on some parts and slow down at others, to create drama, or to focus on a detail – do the same with your written words.
Dialogue can help describe a person or situation, and can sum up people’s characters better than many paragraphs.
“Get over ‘ere you bloody kids”, Mum bellowed across the field.
We sprang to attention, knowing full well not to ignore her summons.
This gives the reader a visual picture of what type of character Mum was.
Show, not tell - Use your 5 senses to describe scenes and people
Write about the look, sound, smell, feel and taste of your experiences, to show, rather than tell, the scene for your readers.
The acrid temple smoke burned my eyes, tears streamed uncontrollably down my face, wetting my sari and sticking it to my chest. I gagged at the taste of burnt flesh in my throat. I felt like spirituality was fighting to get into me, and my body was doing everything to keep it out.
Tell: I was afraid
Show: I shook with fear
Compare and contrast
Compare places, attitudes, language, or fashion, from what you experienced or had in the past, to your views now. Paint a picture with your words to show the differences from then to now.
Getting to school was one of the biggest challenges of my youth. Not only did I have to battle with my father, he would rather I stayed home to keep the house and prepare the food for the workers, but I had to battle the school and nature as well.
Discuss the battles. Compare how your children went to school or even your grandchildren.
When I first started work at the factory in 1936, a man was killed or maimed every week, and this was normal for the industry. In 1942 rudimentary safety training was introduced, and a death once a month became normal. Now, if there is one death a full investigation is launched and production is stopped.
Discuss an incident as an example of how things are different now.
Zoom in and out
Just as movies zoom in and out of a scene to give perspective, or to show great detail, do the same with your words. Start with a big scene and work your way in, or vice versa.
The forest loomed, dark and unwelcoming before me. Each tree a sturdy mirror of it’s neighbour, limbs touching, their leaves entwined, as if holding hands to create an impenetrable wall.
Describe people and scenes from different perspectives or angles. This generates more specific details and emotion.
My father was a fair and respected businessman….. I saw his secretary hunch down behind her workstation partition, her hands fussing over paperwork and eyes averted. Cringing like an often whipped dog.
A bird’s eye view –
Farmland, in a patchwork quilt of straight lines and multiple colours, stretched in every direction.
Adverbs – overused and redundant
It is a common mistake, when you are new to writing, to try and make your writing sound better by using a lot of adverbs.
…the car zoomed around the track speedily …
‘zoomed’ and ‘speedily’ essentially mean the same thing, so to include the adverb speedily does not add anything to this sentence, and is redundant.
…the stone sank quickly…
too obvious, of course a stone sinks quickly.
A better approach is to show, not tell, the scene:
…the body sank quickly, like a stone…
Adjectives – ponderous and redundant
Too many adjectives can clutter up your writing, or even be redundant.
The dark and dreary room had an empty, suspicious feeling to it, the air hung stale and thick with undefined strange odours…
‘dark’ and ‘dreary’, ‘stale and thick’, ‘suspicious and strange’, these combinations all essentially mean the same thing, so to include both does not add anything to the sentence, and are redundant.
A better approach could be:
The dreary room felt empty, the air thick in my throat…
Vary sentence lengths
Vary sentence lengths to create more interesting paragraphs. Too many short sentences produce a choppy feeling, and too many long sentences can confuse the reader.
Some memories can create strong emotional reactions. Take a breath, even a break, or talk it through with someone.
Write in stages - start with bullet points, key words, or expressions, then come back when you feel stronger, and piece-by-piece you can build on your words.
The brain is an amazing thing, but it is not perfect all of the time. Memories can be fragmented, or a mix of first and second-hand information. The brain is very sensitive to suggestion, and sometimes you may feel you remember something, but it might not be completely accurate. Your memories are also your perspective, perhaps you did not have the situation in context, or you were looking through a child’s eyes. This story is your story, and it is your perspective, whether right or wrong, just be aware of the repercussions of vengeful words.
We discover the world through our five senses; sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Our sensory perception is primal and powerful, and can be used to stimulate our thoughts and memories.
Look at a photograph. Start jotting down points about what you see; name the people, what are they doing, what is the occasion, what are they wearing. Use these points to start generating your memories of that time.
Listen to some music relevant to a time or era you want to remember. Jot down bullet points as memories come back.
Smell some clothing of someone you want to remember, or their aftershave or perfume. Even sun lotion or cooking smells can help to trigger long forgotten memories.
Usually associated with food, but some smells can create a ‘taste’ in your throat as well. Eat some foods that you used to eat in your childhood, or cook a loved one’s favourite recipe.
Hold an ornament or trinket from a time you want to remember. Perhaps a cherished possession of someone you are trying to remember. Sit in their chair or put on their shoes. Close your eyes and concentrate on the feel of the item.
Combining senses will make the memory triggers even stronger. Look at a photo, listening to the right music, wearing their perfumed scarf, while sitting in their chair.
Imagine your life as a landscape scene
Snowcapped mountains in the background, a large river weaving through dense forests, desert plains, fields with flowers, maybe some rapids on the river, a waterfall, a swimming-hole. Can you relate these scenes to periods in your life? Can you see an overall reoccurring theme in your life? This theme can drive your plot and create the structure of your story.
If possible, go to the place where you grew up, or first worked, or lived when you were first married. Seeing how a place is now can stimulate your memories of how it used to be.
Create your life’s timeline. Start with the year you were born, the year you went to school, the year you moved house, the year your pet died etc. List all the major events of your life.
List some major world events and think about what you were doing then. Where did you live, or work? Did this major event affect your life or your family?
Bookform is an online program to automate easily collecting & sharing life stories, any language and photos, into printable digital books. www.bookform.com.au