GUIDELINES FOR WRITING YOUR “THANK GOD I...™” STORY 1. Choose ONE significant turning point in your life – and stay focused on it. Your story should be about ONE event. Don’t try to tell your whole life story. Focus instead on a single incident. Give your readers a close-up view of what you experienced, how you behaved, what you decided, during a single defining moment.
2. Leave your reader with a big “ah-ha.” Everything that happens in your story happens for a reason. But that reason should not be known to the reader until the very end. Save the big revelation for last.
Don’t “give away” your ending! Ideally the end of your story should engender within your reader a flash of insight, an “ah-ha” moment. Notice I said “within” your reader. For an insight to be memorable, it needs to be generated from within, not given from outside. It is one thing to tell a reader about an insight you once had. It is quite another to facilitate within that reader an insight of her own.
The lesson of your story should be self evident. No explanation needed. Write a rough first-draft version of your ending first. This will guide you in the rest of your writing. A well written story embodies its message. It enables the reader to “connect the dots” for herself. Your job is to choose the best “dots”– to decide which details to include – or not include – and in what order.
3. Give your readers an EXPERIENCE. People read stories hoping to become immersed in someone else’s emotions and experience. Your job then is to re-visit an event, and then communicate it in such a way that your reader feels she is living it. Imagine that your story has been made into a movie. What do people see on the screen? What sounds do they hear?
SEE your story happening in SCENES. Visualize when you write. Often during major turning points, our perception of time is altered. A minute can seem like forever. Draw your big moments out. Also, our senses become heightened and we notice and remember small sensory details, like sounds, smells, temperature, dampness– perhaps you remember the sound of cars driving by, or your own breathing, the thumping of your heart.
4. Show, don’t tell. This is TELLING:
“I was depressed” This is SHOWING:
“ ... I pulled the cover up over my head. I tried not to hear the sounds from the kitchen. I knew that the sun was shining. I couldn’t bare to open my eyes...”
5. GRAB your reader’s attention... and keep it GLUED to the page. In other words, create suspense. Start your story mid-scene: an attention-grabbing event is already taking place... and something AWFUL is about to happen. Hold off on back-story and explanations. If your reader needs to know what happened before, hold off until you have her “hooked.” The back-story and explanations should be kept to a minimum. You only have 1,500 words. Use them to give your reader an immediate EXPERIENCE.
6. Take your reader on an emotional journey. Your job as an inspirational writer is to bring your reader to a spiritual “high place.” That means starting “low.” Hold off on sharing your “positive” attitude or letting us know you have inner “strength”– that comes later. If you start “positive,” you have nowhere to go. Do not jump ahead and share the insights you have acquired since– that would “give away” your ending. Instead, take your reader back in time. You didn’t know then what you know now.
7. “Should I write from my heart and let spirit guide me? Or should I choose my words carefully and THINK when I write?” Answer: Both. I recommend going back and forth. Let the words just flow. Write quickly and then put away what you’ve written. Come back to it later when you can view it critically. See if you can spot what needs to be cut, what needs to be rearranged or added. Look at your work from the point-of-view of “What will my READERS experience? Will they feel they are living through a key moment in your struggle? Will they experience an “ah-ha” at the end? Then, let the words flow again. This time you might find that spirit takes you in a new – and unexpected – direction.
8. “Re-Vision” means “seeing again.” Writing is really about rewriting. It’s about “re-visioning” or seeing your work again and again. Think of each draft as part of a process. Some of your drafts will help you discover what your story is NOT about. Re-writing puts you in good company:
“I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms 39 times.” - Ernest Hemingway “I can’t understand how anyone can write without rewriting everything over and over again.” - Leo Tolstoy “The first fifty ways I try it are going to be wrong.” - James Dickey “First drafts are for learning what your novel or story is about.” - Pulitzer Prize-winner Bernard Malamud “You re-write, that’s how you do it... [then] you re-write what you’ve re-written.” - Garrison Keillor