Stories Make Us Who We Are

Bonny C. MillardKnoxville Writers’ Guild will host Millard’s “Writing Your Story,” on Saturday, July 16, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Central United Methodist Church, 201 E. Third Avenue in Knoxville. Free and accessible parking is available. To register for the workshop, you can make an online payment or send a check to KWG Workshops, P.O. Box 10326, Knoxville, TN, 37939-0326. The workshop cost is $40. Members receive a 40% discount and student members receive a 50% percent discount.

Why are our stories important?

Stories give us a lens through which to view the lives of other people and provide a better understanding of the humanity of our existence. In the last 100 years, think of all the changes our world has undergone and what people have seen, felt and explored. Stories show us how far we have come and how far we have to go.

We become cultural anthropologists both as writers and readers of the human experience. We realize we are not alone as we go through life’s challenges and joys. What we have to say can have a profound effect on others: encouraging, inspiring and challenging us to be the best we can be.

In July, I’ll offer a workshop, “Writing Your Story,” that will explore the world of personal storytelling.

I have always been fascinated by people’s stories: both those that told of every day events and those that explored the extraordinary.

The young man who risked his life, fleeing East Germany swimming across a guarded river six months before the Berlin Wall fell
The young circus performer who followed his parents into the world of stilt walking
The older couple dealing with erectile dysfunction long before it was a common day discussion

Even when I wasn’t working on a story for the newspaper, I would run across people who said they’d experienced something unusual.

“I have story you need to write.”

My reply has always been, “You need to write your own story. You need to get it down.”

So whether you want to write your story, a story about a family member or someone else, this workshop will offer fundamentals for jumpstarting your project, what vehicle might be best, and how to make it engaging for the reader.

3 Strategies for Your Writing

1. Shades of Green

Green is my favorite color, and I haven’t met a shade I don’t like. Writing vehicles for expressing yourself are like that: poetry, essays, short stories, memoirs, novels and nonfiction. Read what other people are writing to help you decide the best way to tell your story. This simple directive always makes it to the top of writers’ advice lists. It’s something they do and what they encourage new writers to do.

We learn from others and have since we were young. Find a technique that you like and then try to figure how you can adapt it for your story.

During the last winter Olympics, I watched the skiers flying down the mountain slopes with skill and ease. As each new skier finished his or her run, the commentators mapped the latest run up against the skier in the lead, using red and blue lines to show how the two skiers compared.

In this same way, we can read the work of other writers, see how they make the compelling twists and turns in their narratives, and then consider how we might incorporate the style or technique into our own work. During my workshop, I’ll offer examples of poetry, essays, memoir and nonfiction to demonstrate different approaches you might want to try.

2. Use a paintbrush to add color to your work.

Of course, I’m not talking about an actual paintbrush but about choosing specific scene-setting elements that will make your work come alive. Deciding on the right details will open dimensions in your story that will make it uniquely your own while also creating a universal message for other people.

Early in my career, I interviewed a retired English professor who had started writing cozy mysteries. He was a lovely man but answered every question with one- and two-word answers. I returned to the office and wondered what in the heck I was going to write. My notes were sparse. I had to find other details to include in the story, and he sent me a wonderful – and true to his character – four-word thank you note.

3. And finally, the rainbow shows us the spectrum.

We are all different, but our experiences are universal: births and deaths; single life and marriage; courage and fear; resilience and brokenness; freedom and confinement.

The more you individualize your story, the more you must make it universal. When readers see how the story applies to their lives, they are hooked until the end. We all want to know how the story ends so that maybe we can find illumination in our own lives.

Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who helped hide Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis, continued telling her story until she passed away at age 100. She did not consider herself a hero, and yet, her courage and fortitude shines a light for all of us. We may not be faced with the life-threatening choices she had to make, but she gives us courage every day. Her story could easily have gone untold, as much of her husband’s heroism did, and the world would be a darker place.

Most stories don’t reach the magnitude of Mrs. Gies’, but they still bring joy and significance to our lives. Don’t let your story slip away unnoticed.

Millard has worked 15 years as a print journalist and freelance writer and has had the opportunity to interview singers, writers and a future vice president but writing the stories of everyday people living extraordinary lives – whether they realized it or not – is what has inspired her through the years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee and earned an MFA in Creative Writing in Fiction from Queens University of Charlotte, North Carolina.