“This is a powerful book as well as a kindly one. The
Thurstons know the pain of learning to write well and are
right beside you through the struggle. They may shake you up
a little with their concrete, practical recommendations, but
if you stick with them they will make you a better writer.
You will learn if only by paying attention to their own
fluid style. They show as well as tell.” —Richard Bushman,
Gouverneur Morris Professor of History Emeritus, Columbia
University; recipient of the Bancroft Prize for From
Puritan to Yankee: Character and Social Order in
“The Thurstons have written a clever and lively how-to book
with the tasty subtitle How to Write a Story People Will
Want to Read. This is harder
than you may imagine. Even the most interesting life can be
written in a dull, lifeless way. The Thurstons want all of
us to know that there are techniques that can be learned,
and practiced, in pursuit of a lively, readable story. Step
by step, they lead the prospective writer through the steps
of building a proficiency in telling the story. They detail
the pitfalls many writers face, and explain how to move from
envisioning your project to bringing it to completion. Each
lesson has a “Learn by Doing” exercise, designed to hone the
skills taught and to give the writer the confidence to move
on to the next step in the writing. In the margins are quick
inspirations and, at times, hilarious observations by
writers we know and respect. Breathe Life into Your Life
Story is a great introduction to writing that even
experienced authors will find helpful. This book is an
to start. It is highly recommended.”—
Association for Mormon Letters
“From a distance, writing looks easy. I know from personal
experience it is not. The Thurstons’ fun and useful guide to
writing a personal history is full of sensible help and
upbeat advice. The quotes alone make entertaining reading;
but even more, each chapter is loaded with essential
guidelines and good ideas, supported by apt examples. The
book helps you bring your life into focus to write an
engaging story.” — Barbara Renick, professional
genealogist and nationally known lecturer; author of
Genealogy 101: How to Trace Your Family’s History and
Unlike most books in its genre, Breathe Life into
Your Life Story focuses specifically on how you write
your personal history—on the quality of your writing.
Many personal history how-to books primarily consist of a list of writing prompts.
These books are helpful, of course, because they trigger memories and
get people writing.
Breathe Life takes it from
there, showing you how to make your personal history as
interesting as the life you’ve led. Each of its 13 chapters
will help you improve some aspect of the way
you write your story.
The list of chapter titles
below will give you an overview of what you'll find inside.
Breathing Lessons: First Things First
The Power of “Showing”: Give Your Story the Breath of
Lights, Camera, Action! Zoom in on Key Events
Writing at the Gut Level: Let Your Feelings Show
Writing about People: Breathe Life into Your Characters
Writing about Places: Put Your Life on the Map
Re-Creating Your World: Establish Your Life Context
Linking Your Life with History: Where Were You When…
The Hitchcock Factor: Rivet Readers with Conflict and
What’s Essential and What’s Not: Cutting the Clutter
Beginning with a Bang: Write a “Wow” Beginning
Jump-Starting Your Imagination: Story Ideas for the
Breathing on Your Own: Steady to “The End
Excerpt from Chapter 2, “The Power of
Don’t just tell me that you love me—you’ve got to show me!
You may have heard this refrain a time or two, maybe even
said it yourself. Actions do speak louder than words.
The principle is as important to writing as it is to good
relationships. In most cases, showing is better than
telling. Too many stories seem flat and monotonous because
their authors do too much telling.
When you summarize and generalize, you suck the life out of
your stories. If you limit your description of an important
experience to a cursory summary like “I graduated from
Harvard during the turbulent ‘60s. It was an interesting
time to be there,” not only do you miss the opportunity to
engage your readers with a compelling narrative, you keep
them at arm’s length. When you simply describe your
grandfather as “a generous man of unflagging integrity,” you
pay him a compliment but do him a disservice because your
general statement doesn’t make him live for your readers. It
doesn’t capture his humanity or convince your reader you
grandfather is who you say he is.
Telling? Showing? How are they different? To understand
their applications in writing, let’s look at a few examples....
(To learn more, you'll just have to read the book!!)