Thirty-five years ago when I wrote my first book, I believed we all had a book inside of us, something no one else on earth could write because God made his children unique and no one has exactly the same experiences. I still believe that (although, thankfully, I’ve had more than one book).
Even if you’d never think of getting your book published, you owe it to your great-grandchild and your great-great-great-etc.-grandchildren to write your story. Psalm 78 urges us to tell the old, old stories: “…stories we have heard and known, stories our ancestors handed down to us.
“We will not hide these truths from our children. . . . So the next generation might know them—even the children not yet born—and they in turn will teach their own children. . . .” (Psalm 78:2-7).
Tell those stories! But if you don’t write them down, will your story make it intact to future generations?
Writing a story isn’t so hard. They all have a beginning, middle, and end. Larger-Than-Life Lara contains most of what I know about writing. It’s not a writer’s manual, but Laney, the narrator of the story, is learning about writing in school. With equal parts humor and angst, she communicates the art of storytelling as it happens, with chapter titles, such as: “Beginning,” “Conflict,” “Setting,” “Rising Action,” “Climax.” In Chapter 1, “Character,” Laney, who does not want to reveal herself to the reader, sums up the essence of story:
“Once you get yourself a character for your story, Mrs. Smith says you give the character a problem. And the whole rest of the story’s about that problem getting bigger and bigger, and the character getting to be a better and better person, and then the character solves the problem. And that’s it. The end.
“Only it’s not me what’s got the problem. And I’m not a better person than I was three months ago when all this stuff happened—just ask my daddy or any of my three stupid brothers, if you don’t believe me. So, like I said, this story’s not about me. And Mrs. Smith, if you’re out there reading it, well, I’m just sorry about that. But that’s the way it is. Sometimes stories don’t work out like they’re supposed to.”
I start every story with a character because if I don’t love my character, neither will the reader. And if we don’t love that character, it doesn’t matter what I do for the story because we won’t care. Before I wrote the first book in Winnie the Horse Gentler series, I had to get to know her. I imagined Winnie next to me every place I went, including a ride on my horse. But you have the advantage of already knowing your character inside and out! So, you’re already halfway to the story.
Give the character a problem. Easy, right? Write how you felt when you were faced with that problem. Did it get bigger and bigger? Did you try to solve it yourself? Did you ask for help—from friends, family, or God?
In the end, how did you solve that problem? In retrospect, can you see how you grew, how you changed, what you discovered about yourself?
We’ve all “lived” stories that, as Laney puts it, didn’t work out like we thought they should. Be honest and fair as you write your story. Look for ways God was working in your life. You might be an inspiration for your struggling grandson. Or, your mistake or misstep could be what your great-great-great-great granddaughter will need to keep her from making the same mistake.
Don’t let your life experiences die with you. Write your story.
Dandi Daley Mackall is the award-winning author of over 450 books for children and adults. She visits countless schools, conducts writing assemblies and workshops across the United States, and presents keynote addresses at conferences and young author events. She is also a frequent guest on radio talk shows and has made dozens of appearances on TV. She has won several awards for her writing, including the Helen Keating Ott Award for Contributions to Children’s Literature, the Edgar Award, and a two-time Mom’s Choice Award winner.
Dandi writes from rural Ohio, where she lives with her husband, Joe, their three children, and their horses, dogs, and cats. Visit her at DandiBooks.com.