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Write Your Own Life Story - Part 2

Last time we talked about using the "5W's"--Who, What, Where, When, Why and sometimes How-- to ensure that you get all the facts into writing your life story. But facts alone can be dry reading, so let's try "decorating" it.

Adding Color to the "5W's"

"Once our car stalled in a blizzard on the turnpike. We waited all night for a snow plow to dig us out. It was very cold."

Cold, yes--and pret-ty dry, too. Wouldn't the reader feel the drama of the situation (as the person living it felt) if it read this way: "Our car was stalled and we were caught in the middle of a blizzard. The whole world was white at every window. The wind howled around us like wolves--we couldn't talk, couldn't think. We blew on our fingers to keep them warm, afraid to fall asleep, afraid of missing the rescuers..."

Try to see in your mind's eye the story you tell, and then put it into words so your reader can see it, too. Putting color into your writing doesn't mean you have to exaggerate beyond the truth, but to think of the story with a sensible focus.

Getting in Your 5 Senses Worth

The word "sensible" has been used as an adjective and is often thought of as meaning something plain, no-nonsense, almost dowdy: "My mother made me wear sensible shoes " But here is the dictionary definition:

Sen-si-ble : Capable of being perceived by the senses.

We learned this once, remember? The five senses are Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste, and Feeling. Use them when you are re-creating a scene.

Sight: Colors, shapes, movements, dimensions, perspectives--all these descriptive aids will make your story lively. Compare these sentences:

  • "Mother got off the boat with a small suitcase."
  • "Mother got off the boat with a small suitcase the size of my granddaughter's backpack."

The writer used another more modern example to aid the reader. Pretend you are a television camera, slowly "panning" the room or neighborhood. You "see" again the red brick buildings, the rose-flowered wallpaper, the corner store next to the school.

Sound: Even if we can't reproduce our remembered sounds, they need to be mentioned, so the reader "hears" them as well:

  • The grinding noise of Dad's car turning over on a cold day
  • Grandpa's whistling as he worked.
  • The thump-thump of Mom's iron as she pressed pants.
Taste: The tongue can distinguish four separate tastes: salt, sour, sweet and bitter, but we know what taste is about....memories!
  • Euclid Beach Park taffy
  • Hot bread from the oven smothered with real butter
  • Lemonade from your first lemonade stand
Smell: the nose KNOWS--or why would there be aromatherapy? To prove how entwined our taste is with smell, try taking that taste of hot bread away from the smell of it. Other notable remembered smells:
  • The earth after a spring rain
  • A baby's skin, washed and powdered
  • Your mom's best holiday dinner in the oven
Feeling: It could be said that all the first 4 senses involve the head, and the feeling is left to the rest of the body. That's a very general explanation, but you get the idea:
  • The heart pounds when HE/SHE walks into the room
  • The skin gets goosebumps as you enter a haunted house
  • Eyes flow with tears, for happiness or sadness
Our body reacts to exterior and interior events, and almost universally we recognize them in others. So, say it with feeling.

Beginning Your Childhood Chapter Now that you know the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How, and the senses of Sight, Sound, Taste, Smell and Feeling, you are ready to write.

Begin at the beginning:

  • Your Birth.
  • Your parents, siblings, relatives.
  • Hometown, neighbors and neighborhood.
  • Describe your home and each room.
  • Your room.
  • Accidents and Illnesses.
  • Learning to walk, talk and other accomplishments.
  • Your physical growth.
  • Religious affiliations and ceremonies.
  • Early playmates.
  • Chores.
  • Favorite memories of family members.
  • Nicknames, jokes, games and silly things.
  • Your best friend.
  • School Days.
  • First Day of School.
  • Teacher's names and classmates.
  • Subjects you loved and hated.
  • Special events, grades, sports.
  • Family pets.
  • Death of a loved one.
  • Birth of a brother or sister.
  • Your first crush.
  • Music, dance art in your home.
  • Early ambitions.
  • Summer vacations, holidays.
  • Shopping.
  • Becoming a teen.
  • Fads and fashions.
  • First date.
  • Learning to drive.
  • First car.
  • After-school jobs.
  • High school friends, clubs, awards, classes.
  • Graduation.
These are just a few of the memory joggers to get you started.

Next time: The Adult Years and Completing Your Life Story

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