Single themes

When you think back to all the books you’re read over the years, and all the movies you’ve seen…which ones to do you remember best?

The stories that stayed with me are those that offered a single theme or a single goal Every chapter or theme built on to that single premise.

Stories that quickly come to mind or Aesop’s “Tortoise and Hare,” Dickens’ “Christmas Carol,” and Twain’s “Celebrated Jumping Frog.”

Aesop’s story is about a race; Dickens’ tale is about mending one’s ways; Twain’s tale is about a contest.

Today, whenever I sit down to write I ask myself two questions: (1) What is the focus of this story? and (2) What conclusion do I want the reader to draw from it?

Informal biographies

Over the last four decades I’ve written well over 500 short biographies. Because I do this so much, I created a simple format I follow nearly every time.

So I’m constantly surprised when parents or grandparents tell me they’d like to tell their kids about the “early years,” but don’t know how to get started.

One way I recommend is that the writer recall her earliest vivid memory, and begin the story from that point. In my case, it was sitting on the couch with my Mom or Dad when I was three or four, and having them read children’s books to me.

What “first event” jump-starts your memory? Is it getting your first dog or cat, or interacting with a sibling? I find that after you get the first few sentences down on paper, the writing gets much easier.

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Where are your archives?

A historian asked a question the other day that turned my world upside down.

“Where,” he asked his audience, “will future generations store their greatest documents if everything is stored electronically?”

I never see paper or books going completely away, because humans still have reasons to write things down, and to read and retain printed materials. So — in today’s multimedia society — the larger question becomes “We generate lots and lots of data, but what’s the most important to retain?”

One logical answer: Make everything you write memorable in some way. Aesop did this by teaching lessons with each story. Dale Carnegie offered wonderful tips in his book on “How to win friends and influence people.” Leonardo deVinci both drew and described his futuristic inventions.

It’s a tall assignment…but think about creating something memorable every time you sit down to write.

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