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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Writing About: Your Toughest Moment


“Writing about trauma is more than simply documenting experience – it’s about illuminating life on earth. It’s about transforming tragedy into art, and hoping that somehow that piece of art may help someone else whose gone through something unbearable and who doesn’t yet see that there truly is a light at the end of the dark tunnel.” –Tracy Strauss

When you have to write about your toughest moment in life it can be overwhelming and scary. How do you capture the most difficult experience (or day) you’ve ever had to go through, and write about it? Where do you begin?

Well, you have to go back to that day, immerse yourself in that moment. You have to start at the beginning . . . .

Whether you’re writing a memoir, or if you’re using your experiences for your character’s story, here are 5 tips to help you write about your hardships: 


1.    Write out everything you remember as if you’re writing in a diary that only you will read. Don’t worry about making it sound intelligent or lyrical. And don’t filter what you write. Just write! Write through the pain and sorrow you felt. Write about every painful, ugly detail. Write as if it’ll cleanse your soul!  

2.    Read through what you wrote and rewrite it as if it’s a fictional story. Make sure you show as much as you tell and add prose, but don’t soften any of it, just work on making it sound less like a diary entry and more like a book.



3.    For a memoir, if there is something you’d not rather share, you can take it out. It’s your story, so it’s up to you what you reveal. Leaving something out won’t make everything else a lie. What you don’t ever want to do is add in something because you think it makes your story more interesting. Remember to always tell the truth!

4.    Disguise the people you’re writing about. Even if you write about what they did and said, you can still keep their identity a secret by giving them a different name and physical description. You can even change their sex and race. This will ensure that they won’t experience any backlash in real life from your memoir.

5.    If you’re giving your past to a character, follow the steps above to make your memory read like a story and to disguise real people as fictional characters. But you will also need to change your voice into your character’s voice.

This strategy helps you to stay anonymous about what you went through, while also sharing it. Only you will know what parts of your book were inspired by your life, and you can still help your readers by making your character’s experience as real as your own experience.


I have used this strategy in my own writing, especially in my (unpublished) series. I really felt like I was one with my protagonist, so I gave her my feelings and experiences.



 “...some pretty terrible things have happened to me in my life (that I prefer not to write about because for me, books are for fun, therapy is for the bad stuff)...” -Meg Cabot from her 9/11 post

I know a lot of writers use their life as inspiration (as I do), and write about the bad they’ve endured, but this isn’t true for all writers.

So I am interested to know which side you stand on . . .


QUESTION: Do you agree that books should be fun and happy like Meg Cabot, or do you believe in writing about the traumas you endured to help others like Tracy Strauss?


SHARE: Your tips for writing about your toughest moment (or a memoir).


22 comments:

  1. Hi Chrys! Happy Tuesday. I find that writing about difficult things can be cathartic in many ways. It's a way of "exhaling" on paper, if that makes any sense.

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    1. It does make sense because I feel the same way! Thanks for commenting! :)

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  2. I'm more a Meg Cabot writer. I'm amazed at how many dark, depressing books for young readers there are. There certainly is a need for those, but I don't see enough happy stories!

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    1. For young readers, it is better to stick with happier themes, but life is not always happy, so I still think writing about real life occurrences such as death, cancer, etc. is important for teens.

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  3. I think in order to be realistic, it will have to show some pain. And there is a place for type of book.
    There is tragedy in mine, although I don't go real dark and there is always a happy ending. I prefer reading to be an escape, but I still have to relate.

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    1. There is a place for stories that are darker, with more pain. No matter what kind of hardships my characters face, I also always have a happy ending. :)

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  4. My son is a teenager and involved in spoken word. You'd be surprised by the atrocities and horrors that teenagers have to endure but you can hear it clearly from listening to them. My young adult novels deal with some gritty, real life issues that teens have been exposed to and at times these books take a dark turn. I have written a memoir and have spent about 8 years fictionalizing it. I find it very challenging to go into my darkest days, as well as bringing my characters into those territories, so I do it in very small doses. That's why the book is taking so long. I really like your 5 tips Chrys!

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    1. Teens are exposed to more bad things than we realize, and that our fiction should reflect real life issues that teens ago through. Our world is tough. Being a teen is tough. We can't gloss over that.

      I'm glad you like my tips, Stephanie. :)

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  5. I don't think I'd ever want to write a memoir because I probably couldn't deal with having to write certain things. I think it's good to have both kinds of books--the happy fun books, and the more serious ones. I've read books that have made me want to throw them against the wall, but I still enjoyed reading them and appreciated what the author was doing.

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    1. I've written a little bit about my life, and it was really tough going back to that time. I wouldn't recommend anyone to do that who can't handle the trauma of it. And I agree that both types of books are needed.

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  6. I think it depends on what you are trying to convey, both methods work in their own right. I sometimes can get pissy with such moments, but then my smart arse ways take over and I make them fun.

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    1. You're absolutely right. Both are good for the right stories and at the right moments.

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  7. I love the suggestion about writing it as a diary entry.

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  8. I love all of these bits of advice, Chrys. And I've actually gone through ever single suggestion you mentioned. When my mom fell ill and her life was slipping through our fingers, I remember pulling my car over and just WRITING. I didn't give anything else, other than how I felt if I had lost my mom, much thought. There were cars speeding by, rain coming down, and what felt like me, gazing out across a harsh, concrete eternity of something that was more real than I had ever felt before. I still have that same page, as well as other entries, I journalized during her near-death experience. One day, I will look back at them, as well as the ones from when my dad was murdered, and put together a memoir.
    Life is tragedy and in return, it is also beautiful. I agree with Tracy Strauss. And the more trauma we authenticate our writing with, the more our readers will be able to relate and feel; especially when those traumas turn into inspirational moments in growth, change, success and enlightenment.
    P.S. I love disguising people I base my characters off of. There is quite the list!

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    1. Beautifully put, Gina! Life is tragic and beautiful. We should highlight both sides of life in our stories. Your memoir would be truly something, Gina. I'd buy it, read it, and would want it autographed! P.S. I love to disguise people as characters, too. ;)

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  9. Sorry for the wishy-washy answer, but I believe there is plenty of room for both. I enjoy authors that are all fun and play, but yet respect and see the benefit of those willing to write about the difficult stuff.

    Your advice to write everything down first is excellent. I view this as brainstorming and certainly something that will make the final product much better.

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    1. I believe there is room for both, too. It would be a boring world if we only had happy, or dark, stories to read all the time.

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  10. I believe in a good balance of both. There are different readers out there, all with different story needs. As writers, we're lucky we are diverse enough to accommodate those needs.
    Deb@ http://debioneille.blogspot.com

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    1. I agree, Debi. As a reader, there are times when I want a happy story and times when I want a darker one.

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  11. I'm all over the map with my reading. I admit, I've never stopped to consider if the story I'm reading is based on the author's life or not.

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    1. But now that you think about it, doesn't it make you wonder? ;)

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Please tell me what you think. I love to chat! :)

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