Whether you are planning to write your personal story as a memoir, or to write a commercial novel based upon your life’s experience, you must find ways to connect with the emotions of your reader if you want your story to be remembered.
New writers are often transported by the glamorous dream of seeing their words in print.
But imagine a memoir without readers! How satisfying would it be to spend months – maybe even years – painstakingly writing your personal story, only to realize that your memoir isn’t being read?
Let’s face it. You are writing your story because you want to share it. A writer wants readers to finish the story. Most importantly, a writer wants readers to remember the tale!
By engaging in the act of writing, you are making a commitment to an important person: your reader. You are promising to grip that person’s imagination; to inspire him; to distract him from the commonplace; to open doors to self-discovery and learning; or to provide him with an emotional experience.
If you are taking the time to write your personal story as a memoir, or to novelize your life experience, you must first consider the end-result that you are trying to achieve. By end-result, I am not referring to the act of completing your manuscript. I am referring to the effect (or the influence) that you hope to have upon your reader.
As a writer, you are asking another Human Being to put the rest of his life on hold, to open your story and focus his undivided attention upon something that you believe is important enough to be shared, via the written word. You also want that reader to stick with your memoir or novel until your story’s end.
How do you accomplish this feat?
You appeal to your reader’s emotions.
Some literary critics describe an emotionally moving story as an entertaining or “feel-good” read. Other reviewers might describe it as a “compelling,” “provocative” or “thought-provoking” read. I’m sure you can think of numerous authors whose writing has moved you in similar ways. Before you sit down to write your own story, go back to those written works and study them. Identify what made that writing so compelling that you still remember it favorably long after finishing the story.
One way to appeal to your reader’s emotions is to decide upon a global theme, and then stick to that theme for the length of your story. For instance, would you like readers to remember your story as a humorous tale about life in rural America? A disturbing account of poverty in a third-world nation? An inspirational story of community in the midst of a natural disaster? A romantic tale about love defying all the odds? A spine-tingling account of revenge, corruption, or political intrigue?
Once you decide upon a story theme, you can start sifting through a lifetime of memories, rejecting the anecdotes that don’t closely adhere to your plan for influencing your reader. (Of course, you can always write a second memoir, returning to the “rejected” anecdotes later.)
Another way to appeal to your reader’s emotions is to decide upon a writing “tone”, and stick to it throughout the work. Many new writers find themselves emulating the writing style (“voice” or “tone”) of their favorite authors. This practice is perfectly acceptable. As you become more seasoned as a writer, you will develop your own style.
In the meantime, the key for picking a tone for your own writing is to understand what your readers will expect from your story. Are they reading for information? Then stick to the facts, and keep your substantiating points simple and succinct. Are they reading to be entertained? Then apply wit, anecdotes, humor, and suspense to your story.
The most important practice for influencing a reader’s emotions is to give your reader a sensory experience. Make your reader feel like he’s living and breathing every moment of the adventure. To do this, you must immerse him in color, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.
For instance, to write, “I was worried the entire time I rode the shrimp boat back to shore,” is grammatically correct – and probably accurate. However, the sentence does not evoke emotion, because you are “telling” the reader that you were under duress, rather than “showing” the reader. To make the sample sentence more interesting, paint a word picture. Write descriptive phrases that incorporate the five physical senses.
For example, you might describe the stress of the situation this way: “The shrimpers were muttering under their breaths. I saw Mac cross his heart as he glanced toward the booming storm cloud that chased us.” Or, “As the storm advanced, bearing down upon us like the devil’s black steed, salt spray flayed my lips and cheeks until I tasted blood.”
For those of you who are planning to turn your personal story into a memoir, I encourage you to review these wonderful Internet resources: National Association of Memoir Writers, Story Circle, Write Your Memoir, and Remember When.
For those of you who wish to novelize your personal story, I encourage you to review these helpful Internet resources: Writers Groups by Association and State, Writers Café, and my own website, Writing Novels That Sell.
In the final analysis, there are many ways to write your personal story. However, if you want your story to be read and remembered, you must connect with the emotions of your reader.