Enhancing Your Life Stories: Writing Tips and Techniques



Have you ever wondered how some people turn their seemingly ordinary life stories into mesmerizing tales that captivate readers from start to finish? 

I was once baffled by the same question. These writers seem to have a magical ability to recall and weave their past into narratives so vividly that it feels like watching a movie. The secret, I discovered, isn't in having a photographic memory but in mastering a few creative writing techniques.

Whether you're capturing memories for yourself or you want to preserve your legacy by writing a book for your family, enhancing your storytelling can transform your narratives from simple recounts to compelling sagas.

Here, I'll share insights and tips that will not only make your writing more engaging but will also help you see your life stories through a new, captivating lens.

1. Embrace Fictional Techniques

Autobiographical writing shares much in common with fiction writing.

Even in non-fiction, elements common to fiction—characters, settings, and events—play crucial roles. Incorporating these elements can transform your narratives, making them more vivid and engaging.

2. Add Dialog

Dialogue brings your stories to life.

For a long while, I resisted the idea of adding dialog. I can't remember the exact words someone spoke years ago. Making up dialog seemed like cheating. However, there is a very good reason why published authors do this all the time. Dialogue brings the story to life. 

It's less about recalling exact words and more about capturing the spirit of conversations. Reflect on how people sounded and what they might have said. Any added dialog must be faithful to the person; it must be true to what you or they would have likely said in that situation. Also, it must be in the ‘voice’ of the person. 

For example, my mother was a non-native English-speaking immigrant. She had a unique way of speaking English, including certain catchphrases. If I'm writing words that she might have spoken, I don't correct them to perfect English because that's not how she spoke. I want my kids to "hear" her voice as I remember it.

3. Enrich with Details

Details create a believable and immersive world for your readers. 

I remember wrestling with the dilemma of injecting details into my life stories, especially when those memories were as clear as fog. In a Creative Writing class at Stanford, I learned that enriching your stories with carefully chosen details isn't dishonest—it's essential to bring your experiences to life.

When aiming to add depth to your stories, draw on your understanding of the people, settings, and the era. Even if you can't remember every specific detail, your knowledge of the context allows you to add elements that resonate with the essence of the experience.

When I write about my childhood summers growing up in Perth, Australia, I can’t remember what the weather was like on any specific day fifty years ago. However, I do know what a typical summer day is like in Australia. By looking through old photos, reminiscing with my high school friends, and doing some research, I can accurately depict the beach scenes of my youth.

4. Consider Your Audience

Making your stories resonate across generations. 

Describing settings, cultural contexts, and historical backdrops helps readers visualize and understand your experiences.

For instance, if you're detailing childhood games, consider how these might be perceived by someone from another country or born in a different era. The game of 'marbles' was popular in Australia in the 1960s, but it might need a brief explanation of the rules to captivate a younger reader or someone from another part of the world.

Incorporating cultural tidbits and historical events into your narrative does more than just add context; it invites your reader to walk alongside you. Reflecting on how the moon landing of 1969 sparked a fascination that eventually led me to pursue a pilot's license illustrates how my life was influenced by the events of the time.

5. Incorporate Reflection

The power of reflection is often underestimated.

What makes a life story interesting isn't just a recitation of the facts about an actual event. Readers will value learning about your thoughts and feelings at the time of the experience. 

Furthermore, it can be enlightening to view the experience through the eyes of your older and more experienced current self. This introspective journey offers readers insight into your personal evolution and can also provide therapeutic benefits for you, the writer.

6. Embrace Variability in Memory

There is no absolute truth when it comes to memory

It’s entirely normal for your memory of an event to differ from someone else's account of the same occurrence. This discrepancy doesn't detract from the truth of your narrative. Your version is just as legitimate, grounded in your personal experience, and recounted to the best of your ability.

I encourage you to read the detailed article on The Rashomon Effect featured on our blog page. It highlights that different individuals remember the same event in distinct ways. Influenced by our personal experiences and viewpoints, each recollection offers a unique perspective.

You can use the Rashomon Effect to your advantage. Use the Collaboration feature in My Stories Matter with people who shared the experience with you. They can fill in any gaps in your memory as well as enrich your story by adding their perspective.

7. Define Yourself in Your Life’s Narrative

Embrace your multifaceted identity.

Consider the multitude of roles you play in your own life story. For example, I’m a son, a brother, a father, a dog lover, an adventurer, and someone who enjoys fine dining, among other things.

When writing, it's essential to select which of these identities are relevant to the narrative at hand. For instance, in sharing tales of my solo backpacking adventures around the world in my twenties, I recognize that many of these identities were not yet a part of me and thus do not apply.

I write my life stories so that my children and future grandchildren know who I am. To achieve this, I need to craft a portrait through a tapestry of life stories, each reflecting different stages, experiences, and influences over the years.

Additional Tips

1. Spaced drafting

Write a draft and leave it for a few days before attempting to write the final version. This separation will help you spot grammatical mistakes and identify opportunities for better phrasing.

2. Keep paragraphs brief

I aim for 4-6 lines per paragraph.

3. Editing tools

Utilize tools like spell check. I also use the free version of Grammarly, even if I don't always agree with its suggestions. 

4. Strive for conciseness

Mark Twain famously said, "I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn't have time". 

Removing a sentence that seems perfect but is actually superfluous can be difficult. Learning to judiciously edit your own work, cutting out unnecessary sentences or paragraphs, is a skill that develops over time.

Occasionally, I'll keep those removed sections because they might find a place in future stories.

5. Focus

Keep each story focused on a single experience, event, person, or topic. 

6. Organization

Utilize the Collections feature of My Stories Matter to organize related stories thematically. A story can appear in multiple collections; this makes it easier to find and reorganize content later.

My Stories Matter automatically sorts your stories chronologically in your personal Timeline. This "digital memory lane" contains historical and cultural cues for each year to spark memories and provide context for your stories. I also use my Timeline to identify where the 'gaps' in my life that need to be filled.

7. Use Prompts

My Stories Matter has over a thousand Prompts designed to trigger memories. Prompts are organized into categories such as Early Childhood, Parents, and High School to help guide your writing.

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Your family will treasure your life stories, imperfections, and all. Your efforts to share your experiences, wisdom, and love are what truly matter. Happy writing!


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