What sort of story that would best reflect your loved one’s personality and life?
A series of quirky poems? A classic caper? Or just a good old fashioned biography?
Don’t be intimidated by any option. Writing really isn’t rocket science (though us writers often pretend it is).
If in doubt, go for a simple short story that will go down the generations.
A short story is typically between 2,000 and 5,000 words. The writer Stephen Vincent Benét said short stories are “something that can be read in an hour and remembered for a lifetime.”
We like that idea.
Writing a readable biography isn’t just a chronological reciting of the facts. It’s about creating a narrative.
So what are the bits of the conversation that stood out for you? When did you laugh? When did you get emotional? When were you surprised?
Could any of these could be the ‘climax’ of your story. Or indeed the start. (That’s the way writing works; there really are no rules).
Even if you want to write a simple biography, don’t feel you automatically have to start with your loved one’s birth. Maybe your story starts with their first explosive argument with their parents.
Don’t wait for divine inspiration to hit you. Chances are it won’t. Once you get started, it gets easier and the words will start to flow.
Scott Fitzgerald once said about writing short stories, “Find the key emotion; this may be all you need.”
Be disciplined. There’s no excuse for writers block when you have so much material to play with.
Aim for 500 words per sitting. They don’t need to make the final cut, they don’t need to be great, but it’s easier to edit something than it is to edit a blank page.
If you’re writing about a loved one then there’s a natural urge to get sentimental and to feel the need to be profound.
Resist these compulsions.
State the facts. Let the reader interpret the emotion involved.
Don’t use cliched idioms (‘a match made in heaven’, ‘the apple of my eye’) and avoid flowery descriptions. Not suitable in any genre of storytelling.
Does the year your loved one graduated from school really matter? Do you really need to know the name of the Church they got married in?
Don’t feel compelled to document every detail.
Don’t be afraid to include the hard parts, the struggles, that your loved one lived through (though obviously don’t include anything that would embarrass them).
Of course, if you’ve opted for that idea of a series of humorous poems, some gentle teasing may be required!
Whatever you do, don’t end the story with your loved one self-isolating during the Coronavirus pandemic!
Think back to some of your favourite insights from your chats and consider what could be an uplifting conclusion. Their future dreams? Their positive outlook on life? Any advice they had for the next generation?
Once you’ve got your ending sorted, check in with your beginning again. Sometimes the ‘theme’ of your loved one’s life will only reveal itself after having written their biography.
To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, the first draft of anything is, well, not quite good enough.
Generally, you can spot a novice writer by the wordcount; at least double the length it should be.
A good writer uses the least amount of words possible. Even within a sentence.
When you’ve finished your first draft, read through it and cut the waffle. If even one word seems extraneous, cut it out.
Make the most of your work by turning your Talking Tales into a photobook. One that can genuinely go down the generations.
We love the beautiful templates that Blurb provides but it’s worth checking out a few printing options.
Most printing companies also give you the option to download your book digitally, so you can distribute your loved one’s story around the whole clan (even in Lockdown).
Just so you know a bit about us…
Speechy is a team of speechwriters, with a background scriptwriting at the BBC and working with the UK’s top TV talent.
Between us, we’ve written for much-loved comedy programmes such as Have I Got News For You and Dead Ringers, worked with numerous celebs and one of us has even won a BAFTA!
Feel free to follow us on social media for more ideas on how to connect through the power of stories at this strange and difficult time.
Of course, we’d love to hear if you’ve found Talking Tales helpful, read any of your stories or see any children in action. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and stay well.Meet the Speechy Team