Life in the Slow Lane

Contemplating life, faith, words, and memories

Tips for Self-Editing Narrative Nonfiction — March 31, 2014

Tips for Self-Editing Narrative Nonfiction

OWC header
OWC header

A few weekends ago I attended a workshop on “Creating a Movie in the Reader’s Mind: Self-editing for Narrative Nonfiction Writers.” The workshop was sponsored by Oregon Writers Colony with C. Lill Ahrens serving as workshop leader.

Initially the title for the workshop left me wondering what I would hear, see, learn in this single day. When I left after seven hours, I carried away a more information than I imagined possible.

Ahrens came ready to teach, and we came to learn.

I’ve impatiently waited to share some of the tips I learned. These may seem obvious to some readers, but often they slip my mind while writing.

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  • Attention to chronology. While your plot in narrative nonfiction may leap back and forth in time, a scene should roll in linear fashion like a movie from beginning to end. The use of chronology lends itself to the continual construction of tension. Something like a large rock gathering moss as it rolls downhill, or a skyscraper reaching into the sky.Once completed, your finished work provides effortless reading for the reader. Don’t make the reader continually back up to make a sense of your story.
  • Attention to Story Information. The writer’s goal is to keep the reader engaged in your movie (turning the pages) until the credits begin to roll. Misplaced or missing information important to the story confuses and distracts readers, and they may wander off to see what’s in the fridge or pick up another book.

Important components to check:

Transition Back story Back fill Inner monologue/running thoughts Setting/visual imagery Mood

Emotional truth: This component is so important, especially to those of us writing memoir, it needs to receive special attention. First of all, don’t confuse emotional truth with “emotional.” In a movie, emotional truth travels through the methods of the actors. In the written word, everything can have emotional truth–weather, setting, animals, inanimate objects, everything. The POV character’s thoughts and actions will be the most psychologically complex of all emotional truths shared.

Bottom line: Emotional truth gets stories and books published.

  • Attention to Theme. Have you ever walked out of a movie theater feeling, “Huh?” Do you ever wonder why? Likely, because that movie didn’t end on theme. Unfortunately, “theme” can be a problematic word with many definitions. In writing narrative nonfiction, theme is not the motif, not the moral, not the message. The theme in this case is the major emotional issue of the story.

Caution: Theme is not to be confused with genre. Any love story can be classified true story, memoir, fiction, horror, mystery, historical fiction, etc.

Using narrative nonfiction, your true story can explore different aspects of theme, most importantly its opposite. Think of your theme paired with its opposite. Using my memoir as an example, my theme is forgiveness; therefore, I pair my theme of forgiveness with childhood cruelty inflicted by my mother.

Theme in any writing is with you in the beginning of your story, then is sprinkled throughout, and your story closes with your theme.

Of all the writing tools we have at our disposal, theme is likely the most important. Theme adds depth to our stories. Theme is the connector in our stories, tying all the parts together. In this way, our readers come away from turning that last page feeling satisfied.

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Represented here are just a few of the most important ideas covered during this daylong workshop. I hope that something here has resonated with you in respect to whatever project you are working on currently.

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Biography for C. Lill Ahrens:

C. Lill Ahrens is the contest director for Oregon Writers Colony, an editor for Calyx Journala creative writing instructor for Linn-Benton Community College in Linn and Benton Counties, Oregon, and a freelance editorial consultant and writing coach with award-winning, published clients and students. Her own award-winning stories are published in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including Best Women’s Travel Writing(Travelers Tales).

Ahrens’ website is brand new and still a work in progress, but you can still visit at C. Lill Ahrens.

How to Sell Your Memoir: 12 Steps to a Perfect Book Proposal by Brooke Warner | A Review — December 2, 2013

How to Sell Your Memoir: 12 Steps to a Perfect Book Proposal by Brooke Warner | A Review

Image via Goodreads
Image via Goodreads

How to Sell Your Memoir: 12 Steps to a Perfect Book Proposal

By: Brooke Warner
Publisher: She Writes Press
Published: October 25, 2013
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: Author

Synopsis: How to Sell Your Memoir: 12 Steps to a Perfect Book Proposal offers memoirists an easy-to-follow formula to create a winning book proposal that will attract agents and editors. Brooke Warner is a former acquiring editor and current publisher who breaks the nonfiction proposal into three editorial components and three marketing components. This ebook includes a section about platform-and an explanation of why memoirists need one and how they can build one-as well as real samples from authors who have sold their memoirs to traditional publishers off their proposals. Find easy-to-follow templates and smart tips for navigating agents and publishers, along with best practices memoirists can’t afford not to know!

(Synopsis from Goodreads)

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My Thoughts:

With a memoir well on its way to completion, I’ve been muddling over what does a writer does once the manuscript is complete, when you believe it’s really ready for the hands of a publisher.

When the opportunity arose to review Brooke Warner’s newly released book, How to Sell Your Memoir: 12 Steps to a Perfect Book Proposal, I signed on to help spread the word about it. Little did I know that a majority of my questions would be answered while I read the book.

Warner succinctly and with clarity provides a step-by-step guide to what a memoirist needs to do in order to place his/her manuscript on the correct pathway to publication. Leaving nothing to chance, she provides tips set apart in such a way that it is easy to thumb back through the book and easily spot them. Here’s an example similar to what you’ll find in Warner’s book:

TIP: THINK OF YOUR BOOK PROPOSAL LIKE A BOOK REPORT YOU WOULD HAVE DONE IN GRADE SCHOOL. IT NEEDS A TITLE PAGE AND A TABLE OF CONTENTS SO THE READER OF THE PROPOSAL KNOWS WHAT THEY CAN EXPECT TO FIND, AND SO THEY CAN SKIP AHEAD IF THERE’S SOMETHING SPECIFIC OF INTEREST TO THEM.

Additionally, Warner provides other best practices information with each chapter. These are extremely well written and easily understood. Samples of each phase are provided, including query letter, components of proposal, marketing research, etc.

Sprinkled along the way are resources Warner believes beneficial to the writer new to the marketing and publishing aspects of book publishing.

Her writing and format are both good examples of what agents and publishers will likely be looking for.

Considering the short length, 88 pages of text and tips, Warner answers all of my questions to date and has demystified the issues of platform, query letters, book proposals and more.

My Recommendation:

I cannot recommend this book strongly enough for people writing memoir who may be reaching that point where issues surrounding marketing and publishing begin to come into focus. This is by far one of the best examples of a “how to” book which clearly maps out the process for you.

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Meet the Author:

Image via Amazon
Image via Amazon

Brooke Warner is the founder and president of Warner Coaching Inc., where she specializes in helping writers get published. She is also the publisher of She Writes Press. In her thirteen years in the publishing industry, including seven-plus years as an acquiring editor at Seal Press, Brooke shepherded over 500 books through the publication process. Her expertise is in traditional and new publishing, and she is an equal advocate for publishing with a traditional house and self-publishing. Brooke’s website, www.warnercoaching.com, is the recipient of an award from the Association of Independent Authors for Best Website for Independent Authors. She sits on the board of the National Association of Memoir and She Writes. What’s Your Book? is her first book and she’s proud to be publishing on She Writes Press. Warner lives in Berkeley, California, and works remotely with clients nationally and internationally.

Other places to connect with Brooke Warner:

Facebook: facebook.com/warnercoaching Twitter: @brooke_warner She Writes blog: http://www.shewrites.com/profiles/blog/list?user=1resr57ciyxus YouTube: youtube.com/warnercoaching Pinterest: pinterest.com/warnercoaching

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UP NEXT: Coming soon we’ll take a look at how to choose stories you’ll include in your memoir.