So you’ve chosen the experience you want to write about. You’ve flicked through the photos from your trip and jotted down a few thoughts about the incident.
Now the cursor on your computer is blinking on a blank white page taunting you as to figure out just where to start.
The good news is that you already have all the skills you need to tell a compelling story. You’ve had them ever since primary school, when your competed with your friends on a Monday morning to tell the best story about what happened on the weekend.
And you’ve been honing them every day of your life ever since. With family over dinner. With friends over a drink. With colleagues around the office microwave. Even in these times, you’ve been telling stories.
Now it’s time to us those finely-tuned skills to tell a story that will make your reader laugh, cry, and maybe even change their lives.
Get in the right frame of mind
I had with Andy McNab once. Andy is a former SAS who turned his hand to writing. His first book was called Bravo Two Zero. You might have heard of it. It sold millions of copies.
Andy told me that whenever he sits down to write he imagines that he is telling a story to his mates down the pub. It stops him from ‘over’ writing he said and helps him avoid trying to be too worthy. In his world that sort of thing quickly kills any interest and gets you a good old ribbing in the process.
Other writers pretend they are writing a letter to get in the right frame of mind. By starting with ‘Dear So-and-so’ at the top any writerly temptations are dampened and they get straight to the point. Some even go as far as addressing it to a particular friend or family member depending on what ‘tone’ they are after.
The point to remember is that first and foremost you are telling a story. Sure, a dazzling piece of prose or a poetic description is sometimes in order. But never at the expense of your tale.
Give your story structure
Even when you are only writing about one incident your story still needs structure. People like to be taken through a story step-by-step. There needs to be a beginning. There needs to be a middle. And there needs to be an end. It’s how we’ve been telling stories since the Stone Age. And it’s how we still tell stories to this day.
Again, think about how you share a story with your friends and family. You don’t start, inexplicably, in the middle of your tale. If you were to, you’d begin with something attention-grabbing, and then take them back to the start, and explain clearly how you got there.
Nor do you introduce random characters without any explanation. You take your listeners by the hand and lead them through it. The last thing you want is to spend time clarifying facts, explaining the timeline or justifying an action. A confused reader or listener will quickly lose interest and your message is lost.