Write Around the Outside

I spend a lot of time talking about how everyone’s stories are unique to them, even if they’re about the same kinds of things that happen to everyone else. The trick is how to distinguish and highlight what makes your story unique.

Let’s imagine two people are writing about what is essentially the same experience: They went to a store, they bought a shirt, they went home. Now, the way to make that story boring is if they both write something approximately like this:

Today I went to the store. I needed new clothes. I saw a shirt I liked, and I tried it on. It fit. That made me happy. Then I went home.

Not only is that pretty much a journal entry, the writer has stripped out everything that makes the story uniquely theirs. Let’s try looking at this story from a different angle. I’m going to write this same story from two different perspectives, including NONE of the similarities:

  1. When the last button fell off my dress shirt the day before my interview, I knew I’d have to give in. I aimed myself at Target’s big red dot and fired. Have you ever noticed how tightly the mirrors in Target are bolted to the wall? Three trips to the funhouse later, I thought I might have a successful candidate. And I was on my way – I hoped – to being a successful candidate.
  2. The walk of shame ain’t pretty, but at least mine led by a 24-hour tourist shop. I think the name was something like Melinda’s or Belinda’s Chicagoland Treats. The cashier gave me a disinterested look as I slipped an artificially faded Cubs tee on over my spangled bustier, and I wondered if I was the first or the fiftieth customer to get dressed in the shower-curtained fitting room.

Those are two unique stories with details that set the time and place and give background about the narrator. They’re also both the same story that was so boring originally. Either or both of these stories COULD have been that story, if I’d written the summary instead of the details. So write your mostly-true story this week… then take out all the parts your readers can fill in for themselves. Your real story is in the details that make it unique.

Nonfiction Know-How:

Constructive Criticism

Enough about writing; let’s talk about reading. For this month’s Nonfiction Know-How, we want you to take a little break from your own writing. We’re always harping on how being a better reader will make you a better writer. But how do you become a better reader, and what do you do with that reading skill once you have it? Well, it’s for those two little words that strike fear and joy into a writer’s heart: constructive criticism. Learn more from Rowan here.

How to submit and fully participate in the challenge:

Basic YeahWrite guidelines: 1000 word limit; your entry can be dated no earlier than this past Sunday; nonfiction personal essay, creative opinion piece or mostly true story based on actual events.

1. In the sidebar of this week’s post, please grab the code beneath the nonfiction badge and paste it into the HTML view of your entry;
2. Follow the Inlinkz instructions after clicking “add your link” to upload your entry to this week’s challenge grid;
3. Your entry should appear immediately on the grid if you don’t receive an error message;
4. Please make the rounds to read all the entries in this week’s challenge; and
5. Consider turning off moderated comments and CAPTCHA on your own blog.

Submissions for this week’s challenges will close on Wednesday at 10pm ET. Voting will then open immediately thereafter and close on Thursday at 10pm ET. The winners, as always, will be celebrated on Friday.

Thank you for sharing with us your hard work! Good luck in the challenge…

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About the author:

Rowan submitted exactly one piece of microfiction to YeahWrite before being consumed by the editorial darkside. She spent some time working hard as our Submissions Editor before becoming YeahWrite’s Managing Editor in 2016. In real life she’s been at various times an attorney, aerialist, professional knitter, artist, graphic designer (yes, they’re different things), editor, secretary, tailor, and martial artist. It bothers her vaguely that the preceding list isn’t alphabetized, but the Oxford comma makes up for it. She lives in Portlandia with a menagerie which includes at least one other human. She blogs at textwall and CrossKnit.
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