I am asked from time to time, in various ways, “How do I write this story?” This question is usually posed regarding a writer writing the story of another person.
I answer simply: “Write it like you tell it.”
The answer is simple. Actually doing it is a little more challenging.
If the story you’re writing is about someone else, get as many details from them as possible. Record your conversations with them for reference. Familiarize yourself with their story until you know it verbatim just remember to write it in your own words except for dialogue. You’ll want to use the other person’s style of speech for that.
First, determine the scope and classification of your story. Is it biographical or a memoir? Is it based on a true story or inspired by a true story? Is it fact-based?
Here is the difference between all those terms:
Biographical: a written account of another person’s life
Fact-based: Based on or concerned with true events or experiences
Based on a true story: some of the events are based on real life occurrences but the writers have made up a lot of it
Inspired by a true story: More of the story is made up by the writer than actually told by the person it pertains to.
Memoir: a historical account or biography written from personal knowledge or special sources.
Each of these genres requires different steps.
Biographies and memoirs require extensive research and investigation. It is necessary to interview people who know the person whose story you are writing to corroborate the person’s story. It may also entail digging up any articles that may be available regarding the story.
Inspired by a true story may not have a single grain of truth in it. To be inspired means you feel compelled to do something based upon something else but it doesn’t have to include that something else.
Based on a true story is basically a true story with imagined embellishments. The events themselves may be true but how the person got from point A to point B may be fictionalized. If you weren’t there you have to imagine what it was like and that’s where the embellishment comes in.
Fact-based is just that: it requires more fact than fiction. Some fictionalizing must occur, but the facts need to be on record.
Now that you have determined which avenue you wish to follow you have an idea of how much work is ahead of you. You can also use the terms as taglines for your story which can be a good selling point for it.
Start by writing down the story just as if you were telling it to another person. No holds barred. Anything and everything you would say. Don’t worry about clean up or how it sounds in this initial stage. You want to make sure to get as many of your ideas, thoughts, and feelings down on paper as possible.
Once you have completed this task, go through your story searching for places which need any enhancements, fictionalizing, explanation, details or any other changes. Gather more information if you must.
Do whatever rewriting or editing you need to do, again, as though you were verbalizing the story to someone.
Now walk away. No, no don’t abandon the work. Give yourself a few days or even a week before going back to read the story again. You’re going to need that rest to gather your strength. Because now it’s time to get tough.
Read the story as though someone else had written it. What do you like about the story? What would you change?
A little time and space away from the story will bring you a fresh perspective. It enables you to look at the writing with a more objective eye. There may be aspects you’re not happy with and need to work on. There may be other enhancements you didn’t think of in the initial writing. You may need to do more investigation to strengthen the story.
This may be a process you’ll want to repeat until you feel confident you have done the best job you can possibly do. You’re writing another person’s story so you want to honor them by doing your best.
Once you feel the story is done, your work is not. Now comes the clean-up. This is where you go through and make sure all I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed. Make sure verb usage is correct and consistent, i.e. past or present. Check grammar, punctuation and spelling. Make certain the story flows smoothly and coherently.
Get other people to read the story. Have the person the story is about read it. Listen to all feedback with an open mind and objectivity. They’re giving you honest feedback. Respect that. Analyze it to see how it can help you improve your writing.
Once all is said and done, not only will the voice of the person you’re writing about be heard, so will yours.
This article was inspired by an online conversation with TranquilPen.