Writing begins with biography

Before most of us could read, somebody was probably reading to us. We each had our favorite children’s books, or short stories.

One of my favorite times in elementary school — ranking just behind recess — was the quiet period we spent as the teacher read to us.

What did all those stories have in common? Most presented a biography or memoir of some kind, often about a mythical character who overcame some sort of obstacle.

Many years ago, some folks taught me how to format that type of story. That format became my foundation for developing all sorts of stories…fiction or non-fiction.

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Repeat performance

Imagine yourself in an elevator. As you step aboard, you hear some old song. When the door opens again, and you walk out singing it.

Why is this? Maybe because (1) it’s simple, (2) the chorus repeats, and (3) it either surprises you, or tells you a memorable story.

Now, think back to some of humankind’s “greatest hits”…the timeless messages people repeat to one another. Want examples?

Edgar Allan Poe’s enthralling poem “The Raven” ends several stanzas with the line “Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.'” Or listen to some radio commercials, and hear how many repeat a phone number or web site.

Repetition can build memorability. But…I’m repeating myself, right?

Got a question for Rix? E-mail him at rix@rixquinn.com.

What are thumbnail biographies?

  • As a trade magazine editor for about 20 years, I wrote “thumbnail” biographies.
  • Most of the thumbnails I wrote were about 200-250 words, and usually discussed a person who had either invented a new product or been named to leadership of a company. Here’s the format I followed:
  • = Primary information — I began with a sentence highlighting the individual’s name, plus his/her discovery or new position. Example: “David Author created the Paragraph Link System to help students write better, and the concept has now been purchased by a national organization.”
  • = Background — This offers reasons the inventor created a product, or details the jobs a person held prior to the position described in this story.
  • = Future — How has the inventor changed the industry, or what are the new executive’s plans?
  • = Contact info — Provides whom the reader can call or e-mail for more information on the subject.
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“Meet and greet” opening words

I’ve been told that the “most natural” way to start a feature, e-mail, or essay is to pretend you just met your reader at a party. If that happened, how would your conversation begin?

  1. Ask a question — “What do you think this hotel will look like when it’s sold to the new owner?”
  2. Flashback — “As we drove up to the hotel today, I suddenly remembered the first time I was here…when my cousin got married five years ago.”
  3. Start with dialog — “As I walked into the party, the host greeted me with a puzzled look, then asked ‘Didn’t we go to high school together?'”
  4. Who, what, where, when, why, how — Just answer one of these words about your future story to get the writing to flow. Example: “I asked myself how I’d been selected to receive this award, and then I remembered the wonderful high school instructor who taught me so much.”
  5. Take a look at Rix’s new book: How to Sell Ideas With the Minute Message

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.

Look at Rix’s new booK; How to Sell Ideas With the Minute Message