Tag Archives: life lessons

#WritingTips How to Use Real-Life Stories in Your Novel

24 Feb

This seems simple. Using real-life stories—especially your own real-life stories—should be pretty black and white when you want to implement them into your novels, but it’s not. In fact, it can be very gray and confusing and downright frustrating to pick and choose…and well, remember. So, here I am to help with some writing tips.

First, I wanted to tackle the idea of using someone else’s real-life story in your book. Maybe they are your best friend or maybe they were some random guy at a bar you met. Either way, they shared a FASCINATING story with you about their life, and you loved it so much, you were already picturing where it would be in your current WIP. Stop right there. Personally, I am big on getting permission, especially if the story was deeply personal and unique (which, generally, people’s lives are). Get permission or even ask them what they would like you to change…or ask them permission for what you are already planning on changing. That’s just me though. There are many who would argue with me, and you can read their opinions on their blogs. But I see it as an ethical issue. I am not going to put a personal story about love gone wrong down to the gritty, dirty details in one of my novels when that person put themselves out on a ledge as friend (and human being) to tell me about it. That story is not mine to tell. Now if I get permission…Hell yes, run with it.

Now, moving on.

Why would it be difficult to put your own real-life stories in one of your novels? Well, for one, it can involve other people, which goes back to the point above, but you can also be TOO close to it. You might want to explain every little detail and moment leading up to the short story, and now you have a subplot instead of a little tale to push into your book. Try to focus on WHY. Why is this story so interesting? What about this memory is important? Is it the emotion? Is it the lack of emotion? Depending on the situation, one little section might be the only part worth mentioning.

Now how to choose. I’ve spoken to a lot of writers who are struggling for inspiration. They often tell me their lives aren’t exciting enough to use in novels, but once I start talking to them, I am pointing at them—practically jabbing them with my finger—and screaming, “THAT DETAIL. Use that detail.” Your grandmother who used to love to make liver and onions, even though the rest of the house hated it. Your mother who hairsprayed her hair into beautiful ringlets every morning…only to pin it up with a giant clip. Your father who took you to a golf course one day and you accidentally drew the club back…right into his forehead…and then he got RIDICULOUSLY upset…more so than you’ve ever witnessed before in your seven years…and then he calmed down and told you a story of how he lost a friend in childhood that way. It was the first time you heard your dad speak of death outside of the family or death in childhood or the fact that you just did something by accident that has killed someone before. Sadly, this is a real-life story from yours truly.

A little peek into my real life growing up

A little peek into my real life growing up

Little stories in your life that seem mundane aren’t. Everyone has life lessons, and those life lessons can be used and shaped to give your characters those same life lessons. If you’re struggling to remember which stories to use in your life, I would suggest keeping a notepad in your back pocket. Next time you’re talking to a friend or a family member, you might be surprised by how much you all bring up in everyday conversations. (I actually do this myself! I take notes on my own freakin’ life, and it helps! It allows me to have a file I can go to when I’m writing, rather than trying to conjure up a memory when I’m in the middle of a scene.)

So, study your life. Reflect on your life lessons. Here are some examples from my life.

When did you realize what death was?

My dad had to kill a bunny in front of me when I was four. My new husky had broken its back, and my dad was trying to put it out of its misery with a rake. I still won’t forget the sounds it made. (In my dad’s defense, my mother was trying to get me to go inside, but I was four. Enough said.)

What was your first funeral like?

As a three-year-old, I got ahold of the stage’s microphone and started singing Shania Twain…and got kicked out. I was just trying to cheer everyone up. My great-grandma Juanita took my cousin and I to her house where she let me make him cheese and crackers so I felt like I was helping still. (Because cheese and crackers are SO difficult to make.)

When was the first time your heart broke?

When I lost my first friend when I wasn’t moving. I was used to losing friends. I moved every two years. But when I lost a friend and I still had to go to school with her, I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t fathom how two best friends could just pretend not to know one another anymore. I still miss her.

All of these scenarios I could use in a story. It was my first experience with understanding death, not understanding death, and loss without death. Now those are pretty grim, but I would have to bet you have some interesting life lessons swirling around your mind, and if those don’t work, you can always listen to a friend (and get permission)!

Inspiration is all around you. It might even be in you.

~SAT

My editing services now have example prices. A few of you mentioned confusion on how to calculate the cost, so I left an example for 80,000-word novels. That being said, if you ever want an estimation, they are totally free through shannonathompson@aol.com. (A sample edit is also free, and you’re not obligated to work with me afterward.) I hope these updated listings help everyone out! Ex. Content Editing/Developmental Editing ($3 per 1,000 words) would cost $240.00 for 80,000 words.

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Minutes Before Sunset: book 1: FREE 

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Seconds Before Sunrise: book 2:

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Death Before Daylight: book 3:

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Have you checked out this amazing gift basket Clean Teen Publishing is giving away this month? It has over $130 worth of goodies including a Kindle Fire, several print novels, sweets, swag, and more! Enter to win here.

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Author in a Coffee Shop, Episode 8 starts on Thursday at 7 PM (CDT) via Twitter’s @AuthorSAT! What is #AuthorinaCoffeeShop? It’s just how it sounds! I sit in a coffee shop and tweet out my author thoughts (and talk to you)! See you then!

#SATurday: The Lesson of Macaroni and Cheese

14 Feb

#SATurday: The Lesson of Macaroni and Cheese

When I was little, my mother was making me Macaroni and Cheese – something I continue to love to this day – and I was horrified when she poured it down the sink right in front of me. Of course, that isn’t what she had actually done. In reality, she had poured it into a strainer I couldn’t see from my position near the kitchen’s island. But I still screamed.

I started crying uncontrollably. I was starving (at least, I was starving in my kid mind), and she had just made food for me only to throw it away. As my five-year-old self began crying out my explanation (because she had asked when I was so upset), she began laughing uncontrollably. Now – in my tiny dramatic brain – she was laughing in my face. Of course, she hadn’t thrown out my food, but I think my panic surprised her so much she had no other way to react. Because she couldn’t stop laughing, she actually had to pick up the strainer to show me that my food was fine. After that, we were both laughing.

It might seem strange – and perhaps, it is – but this memory is one of my fondest memories I have of my late mother. Probably because she later taught me how to cook Macaroni and Cheese before she died, but I mainly love this memory because we were doing something together.

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I only had eleven years with my mom, many of which I don’t remember, and she was often too ill to do much, so my memories with her are fleeting – probably unmemorable to the kid who gets a lifetime with a mom – but then again, maybe not. I guess I’ll never know, but I do think about aspects of my life like this a lot, and I’m very grateful for even the tiniest moments because even the tiniest moments last a lifetime. Her lessons have stayed with me, after all.

Let’s take this memory for example. When she started cooking, I was really excited, and then, when she “poured it down the sink”, I was crushed, but then, I realized it was not what it seemed, and everything was fine. In fact, I was one step closer to eating, and I got to laugh so hard it stuck with me for life.

On my bad days, I try to remember Macaroni and Cheese. Aside from the pasta being possibly the best comfort food in the world – no exaggeration – I think there is a lot to learn from the lesson of the strainer. When everything appears to be going down the sink, so to speak, maybe it’s only being strained of all the bad stuff so you can move on to the best part – eating. And I do love eating.

We’re only getting closer to enjoying it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t laugh along the way.

~SAT

TTSP.S. I am taking on more clients who need book reviews, interviews, and editing! I provide the first chapter’s edit for free. If you’re interested, please email me at shannonathompson@aol.com.

In the meantime, check out Tiger Tail Soup by Nicki Chen. This historical novel was inspired by true tales about the Japanese occupation, and I recommend it to readers who enjoy historical fiction, literary fiction, and women’s fiction like The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.

Website Wonders: OpenDiary.com

8 Nov

Today marks one week since NaNoWriMo began, yet most of you (my readers) know by now that, although I am an author, I don’t participate. Again, I’d like to clarify that I think NaNoWriMo is a WONDERFUL concept and event for writers to challenge themselves while also coming together. But today I wanted to open your eyes to another event you may not have heard of.

NaJoWriMo: National Journal Writing Month.

It’s real among journalists–I promise.

I’m a HUGE advocate of journaling. I think we can all learn a lot about ourselves and others through taking the time to slow down and truly let your words take over your conscience. I journal every day–and every day, I learn something new about myself. In fact, I surprise myself on a regular basis, especially when I sit down to write about one topic and end up writing about something else all together.

SO…I was thinking–how can I encourage bloggers and writers to not only journal (if they don’t already) but to share their words and to connect with others that share their words?

OpenDiary.com is a FANTASTIC website.

Basically, you can keep an online diary, anonymously or not, and post entries where other writers can read and/or comment on your everyday life. There are plenty of websites like this, but, as I looked around, I found that OpenDiary.com seemed to have the biggest community and easiest format.

So check it out by clicking one of the links above! (You can even type a private one, so it is just for you).

Happy NaNoWriMo and NaJoWriMo!

A small collection of my journals I’ve kept and completed throughout the years.

P.S. As an extra, here are some of my favorite lessons that I wrote which surprised me as they formed on my pages:

…It’s hard to say, but the time of darkness held me in a formed thought of emotion so raw that I had no choice but to feel what I was feeling.

…A part of me wishes I was that strong. Another part of me knows I am. Another PIECE of me is afraid to accept that.

…Maybe I just tell myself I loved you or that we loved one another so that I know I’m capable of loving someone and being loved.

…the consistent flow of water makes me envy the steady stream in a sense that I, too, wish that my words were like rain—constant—consistent—refreshing.

~SAT

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