Friday, December 7, 2012

Writing the True Story

I trust you and your family are making many precious memories this holiday season. Preserve them. Keep a journal. This will be a valuable legacy for your children and grandchildren. If you desire to share your experiences with a wider audience, maybe you’ll consider writing an article for a magazine.

Articles differ from short stories in that they are true and answer the questions: who, what, when, where, why, how, and what’s the significance. However, in the last couple decades many publishers have preferred stories that contain more than just fact. They want pieces that incorporate techniques used in fiction. That is, they prefer submissions that employ story, as Jesus did when he used parables to reach the heart as well as the mind.

In what is called true story, there is a sympathetic character who changes, usually for the better. In the beginning, he faces some basic problem (the beginning complication) that is significant to him. He responds by taking action. However, obstacles (the development or the middle) impede him and increase tension. Then he has a flash of insight on how to resolve the problem. The resolution (or end) involves a significant effort on his part that relieves tension and changes his character.

The first paragraph of a newspaper or magazine article written in the journalistic mode might sound like this:

Last night (when) at his London townhouse (where), Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge (who), the reclusive millionaire, received visits from three ghosts (what) that came to impart (why) the spirit of Christmas to him by showing him (how) his past, present, and future. It is alleged that he now keeps Christmas in his heart (the significance).

Matter-of-fact paragraphs would follow, ending with a summation paragraph. The article would convey all the pertinent information by telling, but showing, which was explained in my blog of 11/16/12, would make a dry series of events come alive.

In the beginning, Dickens did not say Scrooge was a curmudgeon. He demonstrated it with his “Bah, humbug!” and his impatience with people displaying Christmas cheer. His shivering, underpaid clerk and his refusal to help orphans showed his miserliness. The plot develops as spirits show him scenes from his life where his choices changed him from a lonely boy to a man who substituted gold for love, resulting in a grave where he lies friendless and un-mourned. We feel the sadness of Scrooge’s situation when he locks everyone out of his rooms and sits in the gloom eating only gruel. Dickens contrasted that with the young people’s happiness, joy, and sharing, seen in their laughter, dancing, and toasts at sumptuous feasts. After Scrooge has his transformation, we have our hearts melted by Tiny Tim’s “God bless us, every one.”

As a homeschool mom, you have a plethora of treasured stories. If you care to share one, develop it as a true story, employing techniques used in fiction. Many magazines include Christmas stories in their holiday editions. You may find a market that fits by using Sally E. Stuart’s Christian Writers’ Market Guide or the Writer’s Digest’s Writer’s Market. Both can be found at Another way to reach a publisher is by finding a magazine that interests you and looking for its submission guidelines at the beginning or the end of the publication, usually in the fine print.—Quinn

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