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Your Life is a Story January 11, 2008

Posted by kayren in Writing.

How to Write Your Life as a Story

When you approach a writing project the first question that needs to be addressed is – Who am I writing for?

Technical authors, or those who write specifically to pass on information, know they must first define the needs of their audience by answering such questions as:

Who is the audience?
What is their level of skill?
What benefits will they gain from this piece of writing?

This process of identification helps establish a starting point. Once an author knows her audience she can orientate herself to the level of knowledge the reader has and establish the point where he would naturally want to begin.

When writing your life story, you need to ask similar questions of yourself.
Is the audience your family and those who come after you?
Are you writing for yourself alone, to satisfy a creative need and to impose meaning on the disjointed and abstract series of events that make up your life?
Are you perhaps hoping for publication because you think your life story has relevance to people you are never likely to meet?

Once again, your answer will determine where you begin. If you decide to write an autobiography as a chronological series of events you will need to make lists, record dates, write down areas for research that answer questions such as:

What year did my grandfather arrive in this country?
Was that 1972 or 1975 when I won the trophy?
Who attended our first reunion?

Autobiography or memoir?

This chronological account of your life would technically be classed as autobiography. Autobiography in the classical sense was once only the territory of the rich and famous. Soldiers, statesmen and high achievers in various fields of life were either encouraged or inspired to record the exceptional events of their lives for posterity.
Some examples of autobiographies are:

Benjamin Franklin – Autobiography
etc. etc.

Memoirs, however, are usually based on selections of significant  events in the author’s life. These may be related to a specific theme such as coming of age, a particular achievement, an occupation, travel experiences and so on. Some examples of memoir writing to a travel theme are:
Isak Dineson – Out of Africa
Peter Mayle – A Year in Provence
Ernest Hemingway – A Moveable Feast
George Orwell – Down and Out in Paris and London

Now we have the ‘new autobiography’

In the late twentieth-century something interesting happened to the autobiography genre –  it broke free from its traditional moorings among the famous and the elite and became available to all who cared to attempt the uncharted waters of what has been described as a ‘new literary form’. This new form combines the techniques of both autobiography and memoir, and draws on the fictional tools of character, scene and plot to create stories that add meaning and value to relatively insignificant events.

And we also have the ‘digital’ memoir

Yet a new form of personal narrative has recently emerged driven by the development of new media. Writers who are not inspired to create lengthy texts can now take advantage of digital storytelling techniques to create both textual and visual records of their memoirs. Photographs, video, audio and text can be assembled using simple and freely accessible blogging tools and social media sites.

You may want to explore all of these options

When creating your life story, either as a chronological narrative, a story with a theme or a digital record of events, you will need to learn the techniques of storytelling. There are hard and fast rules around the use of grammar, point of view, voice and structure that must be learned if your writing is to be coherent and readable. Some might object that rules were made to be broken and that writing is a fluid form to be explored from many different angles. This is true, but my advice is to learn the rules first and then, when you are confident that you have mastered them, go right ahead and test the boundaries of writing. It’s you story after all.

Whether your life story is to be a gift to your family and friends or self-published to the wider public in print or on the Internet, it will also be a gift to yourself and a permanent record of your life’s goals and achievements.




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