Laura Hedgecock

Jul 312014
 
How much detail brush strokes

Just like paint brush selection effects artwork, how much detail you include in your story changes how readers digest it.

Writing with Detail versus Boring Your Audience

How do you find the balance of writing with detail versus boring your audience? How do you know how much detail is too much? Think about the following:

How Much Detail Works for Your Purpose

You can really answer the question of how much detail is too much unless you define your purpose. Education, for instance, has a different bar than entertainment. Memoir writers often see advice like this (from Anne R. Allen in How to Write a Publishable Memoir: 12 Do’s and Don’ts): “…Your happy memories of that idyllic Sunday school picnic in vanished small-town America will leave your reader comatose unless the church caught fire, you lost your virginity, and/or somebody stole the parson’s pants.”

The bar is much lower if

  • You’re not trying to pen a bestseller
  • You’re not trying to pitch an agent to represent you
  • You’re writing for people who love you

Most of us wouldn’t be bored reading that our grandmother enjoyed Sunday school picnics. We’d enjoy imagining her proudly contributing her baked beans or fried chicken. (There’s much more about this in my book. Also see Why Writing for Your Family Is Like ….)

Who are you writing for? If you have the dual purpose of writing for yourself and others, you might want to include details that might be less than riveting reading for others. For instance, in her travel journals, my mother wrote about things that I skim over, such as what she had for breakfast each day. I still enjoy reading about her travels.

Why Details Matter

Leo Widrich’s What Listening to a Story Does to Our Brains has some great insight. Details can stimulate readers’ imaginations or connect them to stories of their own. A great story stimulates various areas of the brain. (Boring details only stimulate the centers for understanding language.)

How You Present Details Matters

How much detail? Too Much!

How much detail? If you’re presenting facts–not telling a story–it’s too much!

Word choice can change the mundane to enchanting or scrumptious. Was the coffee strong or was it so strong that it got up and walked over to you itself, no wait-staff needed? When you infuse your personality into details, it enhances the story.

Connecting details to the story prevents them from seeming extraneous. Perhaps their incongruence itself is poignant. Perhaps your attention to superfluous details was how you coped. For instance, during an assault, I remember thinking that I hoped the necklace my mother gave me wouldn’t get broken. That detail illustrates my mental state.

Which is better: Too much detail or not enough

Are your details bringing the story to life or putting the reader to sleep? Are your details complicating the story, making it hard to understand the point? Widrich’s article spells that out in terms of cognition:

“ Why does the format of a story, where events unfold one after the other have such a profound impact on our learning?

The simple answer is this: We are wired that way. A story, if broken down into the simplest form is a connection of cause and effect. And that is exactly how we think.”

In other words, whenever your details are making the story clearer, include them.

Matching Your Writing to Your Personality

In my opinion, you have to be true to yourself. If you normally throw a ton of asides in your verbal narratives, be careful of over-editing yourself. Nevertheless, do edit.

When Details are Disturbing

That’s another post! Stay tuned.

Your Turn:

How did you determine how much detail to include in your story? When have you struggled with this?

Jul 282014
 

When journaling tells a story that narration wouldn’t.

Journaling to tell stories

Journaling is a great tool for telling stories

There are times that journaling does a better job of telling a story than narration does. This is especially true for events that take place over time. As you share your journal entries, you take your readers with you on an adventure of discovery.

We always talk about writing our stories. However, it’s also possible that we already have—that we just have to capture them off social media or a past journal. Continue reading »

Jul 242014
 

 Part 2: Ways to Write about Bullies

Write about bullies and feelings

 We do remember what they did. Write about bullies  and how they made you feel

Tuesday’s post addressed the different types of bullies looming around in your past. Today’s post will address some strategies to help you write about bullies and other encounters with rudeness.

Rant

Sometimes you just have to get the toxins out of your system. At first, it might seem like you’re just vomiting emotions on the page. That’s okay. With a little editing, chances are that a coherent story will emerge. If not, you’ve had a good purge. The exercise may put you in a better position to write from a different perspective.

How You Wish You Had Handled It

Many times, it’s not what happened that sticks in our craw, but rather our response, or lack thereof. We ruminate over how we could have handled it better. What we wish we’d said—what we’d say now.

You can have your do-over, as you write about bullies, mean girls, or even the mispronounced witch that reigns supreme over the office.

Write a ‘Dear Bully’ letter. Say what you wish you’d said. Tell them of the hurt they caused. Alternatively, if you’re really gutsy (a different word came to mind here) and you’re still in contact with your past bully, you can call them out. My writing buddy J.P. Ribner did this in A Bully’s Memory. As you read it, notice how revealing the comments are. When you write about bullies, you do start dialogues.

Just Tell the Story

Write about bullies and your feelings

Have your do-over as you write about bullies.

Sometimes simply narrating the story can lend perspective. Was it a confrontation between rivals or a bully and a victim? Were you a targeted victim or the nearest punching bag?

Try thinking about yourself and your nemesis in literary terms. You’re clearly the protagonist. Can you develop the antagonist’s personality a little? Do you know his or her back-story? Likewise, was there something in your back-story that made you a target?

Most good stories have a resolution (or serial), which brings me to the next point…

What You Learned

Did your encounters with others teach you something about yourself? About other people?

I can remember the first time I stood my ground with a workplace bully. Dealing with her in German didn’t help—being assertive is harder when you’re grappling for vocabulary. Luckily (in hindsight), she caught me on a bad day. As she started haranguing, I calmly told her to call me back when she could be civil and hung up.

After that, we were golden. Apparently, bullies respect some backbone. That lesson has stuck with me, as did the realization that I should have stood my ground from the first.

Understanding what motivated the other person is an important part of processing your hurt or offense. Were you ever able to get to that point? How did that change things for you?

Letting Go

Understanding what motivated the other person is an important part of processing your hurt or offense. Were you ever able to get to that point? How did that change things for you?

After J.P. wrote his calling-out post, I wondered what causes us to accept Facebook and other friend requests from our former bullies. Is it actual maturation or forgiveness? Or is it that we refuse to acknowledge that they are important enough to shun?

As you write, let your readers know how you feel about those individuals now. Does the resentment you feel keep you up at night, or have you long since ceased to care? Has life evened out the differences? Have you received an apology? Do you still crave one?

A Parent’s Perspective

Many times, watching our kids go through situations causes us to see our own childhood in a new light. Write about how your outlook has changed. Were you sometimes the bully? Did you understand what you were doing?

Your Turn:

Put your past to paper (or web)—write about bullies in your past. I’d love to read your story.

 

Jul 222014
 
Writing about bullies of childhood

Writing about bullies is a way to open up your past to your readers.

Writing about bullies doesn’t come easily. We want to put that behind us. We wonder, “Who wants to read that?”

Probably most people.

Whenever we get together and share memories and stories, encounters with belligerence, arrogance, or outright bullying invariably come up. It’s always a compelling story.

Our listeners commiserate. They respond with their own stories. This happens when we write too. When we write about bullies and persecutors, we connect with readers and start conversations. We see new facets of each other’s personality. Continue reading »

Jul 172014
 
Use Fiction to tell true stories

It’s not just either or. You can also use fiction to tell true stories.

How do you communicate your story without having to tell it? One way is to use fiction to tell true stories. Writers often use this tool when they (or their editors) feel that real life fails to produce great literature. (Julie Schumacher’s Turning Real Life into Fiction explains some of these quandaries.) Continue reading »

Jul 152014
 
A typical day in your life

Describing a typical day can deepen connections.

Your story does not have to be extraordinary to be worthy of the written word. In fact, memorializing a typical day can be the key to connecting with loved ones.

I remember my younger son’s fourth grade teacher pulling me aside to describe my son’s “spacy” behavior. “Welcome to my world,” I told her. Although I sympathized with her, a part of me was grateful for someone who understood—viscerally understood—life with my son.

We hear “Walk a mile in my shoes!” with good reason. Experiencing the dust around another’s feet and the rhythms of their daily life promotes understanding and empathy. Continue reading »

Jul 102014
 

STrong family roots and ugly treeA strong family root system doesn’t always lead to a pretty tree.

It happens in nature too. Take my backyard willow tree for example. Its root system supposedly can spread over an acre. Despite its ability to efficiently retrieve nutrients and water from the soil, its limbs break off in every storm.

When that happens in families, it’s downright scary. There are times when love, faith, resources, and parents trying their absolute best aren’t enough. Children rebel and run away. Siblings become estranged. Mental illness or emotional scars reign over nurturing. Family members choose (or end up on) paths abhorrent to the rest of the clan—and society.

Usually we think of an imperfect family tree in terms of missing family members. It’s important to write about the parent that you never knew or cousins you never knew existed. Sharing how tangled roots lead to dysfunctional trees can jumpstart meaningful dialogues and conversations.

Unfortunately, dysfunction can also grow out of symmetrical, strong family roots. Continue reading »

Jul 082014
 
Anti-bucket list

What items are on your anti-bucket list? More importantly, why are they there?

Without question, our hopes and dreams tell a lot about us. Shouldn’t an anti-bucket list do the same thing?

On the other hand, why write about the negatives when you can focus on the positives?

An anti-bucket list isn’t just a litany of things you don’t like or dreams you’ve given up on. It’s a chance to explain what makes you tick, to write about the lesser-known side(s) of yourself. Writing about your dreams is important. But, life’s realities matter too. As wonderful as rainbows and ponies are, sometimes the deepest connections result from knowing understanding the negatives. Continue reading »

Jul 022014
 

Craft Squad July 4 TraditionsIn my project for this month’s blog hop, I’ve tried to highlight my families 4th of July traditions. Welcome to my Treasure Chest of Memories blog. It’s all about preserving and sharing personal and family stories, whether you’re scrapbooking, writing, journaling, or augmenting your family tree. If you’re coming from The Crafty Neighbor, you’re in the right place. Continue reading »

Jun 302014
 

Various Roots Roots by Another Mother…

When we think of roots, we think of family trees. If we’re from a loving, supportive family, we think of those roots supplying stability and nourishment. If we’re from an atypical—or even dysfunctional—family, we think of them as hidden, dirty, cavorting with worms and grubs.

Those roots are great to write about. But, we have other roots. Some of them have nothing to do with family. Bear with me as I beat the metaphor a little longer. Continue reading »