How to Write a True Story on WEbook11:15
You might have noticed all the amazing collections of true
stories at WEbook. We’ve got projects about living abroad, projects
about teaching, projects
about being a mom,
projects about being
a dude, projects about food,
projects about – well, you get the idea. What do all these projects have in common? They bring together a broad range of voices,
telling stories about a shared interest. So, if I want to know what it
takes to be a real man (and what woman doesn’t want to know that?), I don’t get
just one perspective – I hear from Dorothy, and TsungChi, and anemett, and more!
But here’s my dirty little secret, WEbookers. I’m a
fiction writer. That’s right –
fiction. Sure, I tell the truth every
now and then. (Here’s me being honest
particularly nasty habit.) But
mostly I like to make stuff up, the way I did for Chapters 17 and 26 of Pandora. When it comes to collections of true stories,
I’m a little out of my depth.
So it seemed like a good idea to find out how the pros do
it. With that in mind, I headed off to downtown
Manhattan, to hear from writer and sometime WEbooker Daphne Uviller and her co-conspirator
Deborah Siegal on the art of
collecting true stories. After crying a
few tiny tears over the stunning array of stuff I couldn’t afford in the SoHo
boutiques, I found my way to the Mediabistro
offices, where I was joined by a handful of other would-be truth tellers and
truth collectors. I knew right away that
I was in good hands: Daphne and Deborah
edited and wrote for the anthology Only
Child: Writers on the Singular Joys and Solitary Sorrows of Growing Up Solo,
which consists basically of
a broad range of voices, telling stories about a shared interest. Just the way we like it at WEbook!
So what did I learn about true stories? A lot! The number one highlight was a list of seven things to think about
before you write your first word. Deborah kindly gave me permission to share that list with you – I’ve adapted
it a bit to suit what we do at WEbook. So here it is, folks: Seven questions to help you find your story
and choose the best way to write it. Not
every question will apply to every story, but it’s a great way to get the
juices flowing once you find that perfect WEbook project – or start your own!
1) In one sentence, what is the story about? If you met me in an elevator, and we were
only going down one floor, how would you describe the story? (Not that I would ever take the elevator down
only one floor!)
2) What’s your angle? If we were going down twelve flights in an elevator, and I picked a
fight with you about your story, what would you try to convince me of? (Not that I would ever pick a fight with you
in an elevator!)
3) What’s new about your story? How do you know the last guy I met in an
elevator didn’t tell me exactly the same story yesterday? (All right, all right, I’ll stop with the
4) Why is now the time to tell your story? Is there something going on today that makes
your story extra relevant?
5) Why are you the best person to write this story?
6) Who’s going to read the story?
7) How will the story be organized? Will it have sections? Will you tell it chronologically, or will you
jump around in time? Will it have a beginning, middle, and end?
Hmm – good food for thought, right? But don’t feel like you have to answer every single
question before you get started at WEbook. Instead, jot down a few ideas, and write a
quick first draft. Then invite some
friends, new or old, WEbookers or non, to join in and give you feedback. You’ll get a lot of help figuring out the
best way to write your true story, and when you’re done, you’ll have a shot at
Pretty nifty, right?
P.S. Be sure to check out Deborah Siegel's blog, girlwithpen, where she "dispels popular myths concerning women's lives and offers tips for
those seeking to thoughtfully personalize or popularize their prose." Right on!