The doctor is in. Please be seated—at
I recently attended a meeting of a
group designed to encourage people who were dealing with
vision loss to tell their stories. They were basically
non-writers, and their stories would eventually become
part of a book to help those losing vision realize the
obstacles of blindness can be overcome.
The group members were encouraged to
write or tape the assignments the coordinator of the
group gave each month.
Also as part of each session, the
leader read an article or passage from a book to inspire
them or at least help allay their fears about writing.
That day, she read an article she had found on the
Internet about how to write a memoir.
Fascinated, I listened to the author
of the article recommend exactly the same things I had
written in a critique of a novel the day before, advice
I have given writers ever since I began teaching. Show,
don't tell, weave in descriptions of people and places,
write in the active voice, create emotions in the
Listening to the article underscored
the fact that all good writing is based on the same
basic principles or techniques. If you think about that,
you realize that we have been reading, viewing and
listening to instructions on how to write a novel for
most of our lives.
When we read the newspaper or a
magazine, we create images of what is happening in the
articles. If we read a how-to book on how to create
origami decorations, we mentally fold a square of
colored paper into a delightful bird. When we watch
television or go to a movie theater, our vision and
hearing transform the pictures into real situations so
our stomachs lurch when the car we seem to be driving
careers down a twisting mountain road.
Why then are those techniques
difficult for many writers to master? It may well be
that we believe that because we want to do something we
haven't done before, we must learn new techniques that
work for writing a novel.
Actually, all we need to do is apply
something already embedded in our subconscious minds to
a conscious approach to our new venture. That's an
over-simplification, but it can be helpful nevertheless.
Depending on how well you can
visualize, create your own mental picture of the scene
Practice by Taking time every day to
notice details, colors, sounds, Smells like the dust or
rain pounding on a hot sidewalk.
Then picture yourself in the time and
place of the most frightening moments you can recall.
How did your body feel?
Muscles tense? Nausea in the pit of
your stomach? Cold sweat on your forehead? Write the
scene you just visualized.
Now do the same with the happiest
time you can remember. See the place and situation and
people. Feel your smile and laughter, excitement or
These little exercises will show you
how quickly you can write scenes that make your fiction
show instead of tell and come alive for the reader.
And when you clap your hands with
delight and laugh because that tough, hard-to-reach goal
was something you knew all along, write that scene, too,
and put it in your notebook so it's handy when you write
your own memoir.
Marilyn Henderson, 42-year novelist,
coach and mss critic