ACWC Writers Blog

January 27 Assignment 5 -Storytelling Your Life Lessons
Sunday, January 27, 2019 by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Just because you write non-fiction doesn’t mean you can’t be a good storyteller.

In fact, I heartily advocate using all the elements of fiction in your writing. This is often called “narrative non-fiction” and employs good storytelling in order to offer an important takeaway.

While strong characterization, dialogue, and context are important, the key is in the details. Details are what help a writer to heed the advice of “Show, don’t tell.”

What does this mean to a writer?

“It means to learning how to use descriptive details to give your story a sense of time and place and an emotional tone that will help readers feel what is going on the story as you relate it,” says writing expert Biff Barnes.

The key is to be specific.

For instance, compare these two sentences:

  1. I walked to my truck that morning and drove to work.
  1. The sun had barely made an appearance and it was in that in-between time of faint light peeking through the darkness that I wearily shuffled out to my beat-up red pickup truck, wondering yet again if those worn tires would get me to work before the shift bell rang.

Both sentences get me to my truck and off to work.

But which one tells you more of the story? Obviously, #2 with many more details:

  • It’s barely morning – crack o’dawn.
  • I’m tired and not all that eager to go.
  • My vehicle is an old truck with worn tires.
  • I do shift work and can’t afford to be late.

We communicate more clearly when we use the right words – not just “I walked to my truck,” but “I wearily shuffled.”  Descriptive words. That’s why developing a wide vocabulary is important!

Don’t just tell about the beautiful evening by the shore. Help your readers experience it the way you did – involve their senses. Is it warm? Is there a breeze? Can you hear waves lapping on the shore? What music comes from the nearby restaurant? And why do the smells make you suddenly hungry for fish and chips?

But in order to provide details in your non-fiction story you must be a person who chooses to notice.

To be attentive to life. To slow down long enough to observe the details of what and who surround you. And then to filter those details through your own mind so that you can portray them realistically, empathetically or critically to others, depending on what you are communicating.

This week a friend of mine died of cancer. Now, if I were writing about some of the spiritual and practical lessons I learned while walking with her through this process, I might utilize the narrative non-fiction format of storytelling. I would present dialogue, scenery, and characterization, to help make you feel that you are there with me in the hospital as I visit her. So that you totally understand my frustration when I say or do the wrong thing; my despair at not being able to comfort her grieving family. And by my giving details, you the reader will take away some of the very lessons I learned in this real life experience. But perhaps you will learn it better through story than through a bulleted how-to article.

But there’s no way I can be the kind of writer who offers this to my reader unless I am the kind of person who assimilates life through noticing. Taking time to filter and process. That’s why good writers are deliberate and focus on others. That’s why we choose to relish the moments and to listen and to look deeper.

I cannot be a writer of details if I am always on the run.

Our readers don’t want us to tell them how to feel something or even what to feel. They want us to help them experience the situation so vividly that the lesson or emotion is naturally awakened within them.

Author Cec Murphey says that we “show” (not tell) when we present a picture to our readers.  “Good writing draws a picture for us and pulls us into the scene. Good writing is subtle. I can insert one simple detail and it conveys more than a paragraph of telling statements.”

Learn how to develop details in your writing. Take a walk and be especially attentive to all around you. Jot down what every sense experienced. Watch people and practice describing them with precision, not just what they’re wearing, but their demeanor or attitude.  

You will not only become a better storyteller, but perhaps a kinder person as well.

“Our life story is multilayered and filled with wonder;

our task is to stop our activity long enough to notice the details.”

– Vinita Hampton Wright

 

 

Your Asheville Christian Writes Conference assignment: 

  1. Determine that you will be a person who notices. Pay attention! To life, to people, to your surroundings.
  2. Write of a recent experience in which you learned something new. I don’t want to hear about what you learned, I want to actually experience it with you.
  3. Draw me into the scene from the very first words with vivid descriptions of sights, smells, sounds… Help me be there with you – setting the scene not only of where you are physically, but also what you are feeling and thinking at this time – where you are emotionally and spiritually as you begin to receive something new and unexpected.
  4. Show me the breakthrough or lesson or “new thing” as though you were writing a story. Don’t preach, but help me understand why the lightbulb went on in your mind and heart.
  5. Finally, take one step further and reveal an intersect between what you learned and what God says in the Bible. (this is what might make your lesson appropriate to use in a potential blog, devotional or presentation.)

 


Comments

Charles Maldon Jr From MD At 2/3/2020 5:31:47 PM

The battle began the moment my worn black boot touched the dusty plot of tangled weeds. The dusty sickle sliced back and forth as a metronome. Vivid reminder of how Christs places us into service to be utilized as the right tool. The word reads I can do all things through Christ who strengthens

Seamus Reynolds From Gray, Tennessee At 2/2/2019 2:04:49 PM

Ego deflates, seeing eyes roll when hearing my speculation during bible study. My soul feeling more frigid than the piercing winds on this wintry day. My wife reminds me of God’s words to be slow to anger and quick to forgive. Warming words give me renewed vigor in self and others.

Reply by: Asheville Christian Writers Conference

Amen

Previous Posts

Assignment 6 - Creative Non-Fiction
Cindy Sproles
2/15/2021

Assignment 5 - Don't Waste Your Conference Experience
Cindy Sproles
2/6/2021

January 31, Assignment 4 - Bring Your Characters to Life
Cindy Sproles
1/31/2021

January 24, Assignment Four - Time to Shoot the Weasel Words
Cindy Sproles
1/24/2021

Assignment 3 - The Role of Speaker Tags and Beats
Cindy Sproles
1/21/2021

Assignment 2 (2 of 2) Week of January 10
Andrea Merrell
1/13/2021

January 10, Assignment 2 (1 of 2 assignments)
Cindy Sproles
1/10/2021

Assignment 1 - ACWC January 5 - Let's Start with a Bio
Cindy Sproles
1/5/2021

Assignment 8 & 9 - Titles & Sentences - Nancy Lohr
Cindy Sproles
2/13/2020

Assignment 7 - What in the World is a One Sheet - Andrea Merrell
Cindy Sproles
2/7/2020

February 1 - Assignments 5 & 6 - Linda Glaz
Cindy Sproles
2/1/2020

Sensory Perception Enhances Your Writing - Assignment 4
Cindy Sproles
1/26/2020

Don't Write Your Bio - Write WHY ME? - Assignment 3
Bob Hostetler
1/18/2020

How to Make the Most of Your Conference Experience - Assignment 2
Cindy Sproles
1/18/2020

Appropriate Emails - [email protected] - Assignment 1
Cindy Sproles
1/11/2020

How Not to Get an Agent - Assignment 7
Bob Hostetler
2/10/2019

January 27 Assignment 5 -Storytelling Your Life Lessons
Lucinda Secrest McDowell
1/27/2019

It's Not What You Know; It's Who You Know - Assignment 4
Bob Hostetler
1/20/2019

Stay on Track with a Writing Schedule - Assignment 3
Larry Leech
1/13/2019

Assignment 2 - Finding Speaker Topics
Beth Fortune
1/5/2019

IMAGERY–WHEN THIS IS LIKE THAT
By Ann Tatlock
12/30/2018

Asheville Christian Writers Conference Privacy Policy
Cindy Sproles
6/4/2018

2018 Writers Charge
Cindy
2/18/2018

Last Chance - Assignment 7
Cindy Sproles
2/11/2018

An Adjective Safari - Assignment 6
Denise Loock
2/4/2018

Get in the Mood to Write - Assignment 5
Larry J. Leech II
1/28/2018

Getting Rid of “I” Disease - Assignment 3
Andrea Merrell
1/14/2018

Curb Your Adverb Addiction - Assignment 2
Denise Loock
1/7/2018

WHO ARE YOU? - Writing Your Bio
Cindy Sproles
11/17/2017

WRITING IN A PICKLE
Cindy Sproles
11/13/2017

THE NaNoWriMo CHALLENGE
Cindy Sproles
11/10/2017

BRINGING YOUR CHARACTERS TO LIFE
By Andrea Merrell
2/12/2017

DON’T LET SPEAKER BEATS RUIN YOUR MANUSCRIPT
By Andrea Merrell
2/5/2017

HOW TO CRAFT GREAT DIALOGUE
By Andrea Merrell
1/30/2017

AVOID REPETITION AND WRITE TIGHT
By Andrea Merrell
1/20/2017

THE QUOTATION QUOTA – ASSIGNMENT 2
By Andrea Merrell
1/13/2017

ELIMINATE THE EXCLAMATION POINTS – ASSIGNMENT 1
By Andrea Merrell
1/7/2017

WRITING ADVICE FROM MARK TWAIN: WRITE WITHOUT PAY UNTIL SOMEBODY OFFERS TO PAY
By Sandra Merville Hart
12/22/2016

WHEN THE STORY STALLS IN THE MIDDLE
by Sandra Merville Hart
12/20/2016

WHO REALLY SELLS YOUR BOOKS ?
by Cindy Sproles @CindyDevoted
9/20/2016

MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR 15-MINUTE APPOINTMENTS
by Cindy Sproles
9/16/2016

ARRRGH! ANOTHER REJECTION – CINDY SPROLES
by Cindy Sproles
9/12/2016

FROZEN IN PLACE – ICEY SELF-TALK TO FREEZE YOUR WRITING
By Cindy Sproles
9/8/2016

THE BIO – THE FRAGRANCE OF WHO YOU ARE
by Cindy Sproles
9/3/2016

THE PAIN OF UNSOLICITED
by Cindy Sproles
8/29/2016

REDUNDANCY: AN EXCESSIVE, OPPRESSIVE, PERVASIVE DISEASE
By Denise Loock
8/26/2016

7 THINGS TO DO NOW TO BE READY WHEN WRITING INSPIRATION STRIKES – EDIE MELSON
by Edie Melson
8/23/2016

MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR 15-MINUTE CONFERENCE APPOINTMENTS
by Cindy Sproles
8/20/2016

WHY SHOULD I ATTEND THE ASHEVILLE CHRISTIAN WRITERS’ CONFERENCE?
by Cindy Sproles
8/17/2016

YOU NEED A PLATFORM – LIVING A STORY- ASSIGNMENT 3
By La-tan Murphy
1/20/2016

THE ONE SHEET
by Cindy Sproles
1/8/2016

OVER-EDIT?
By Steven James
11/4/2015