Dawn and Morris Thurston: How to Write a Story People Will Want to Read

Morris and Dawn Thurston
Book Review: Breathe Life into Your Life Story: How to Write a Story People Will Want to Read
Dawn Thurston and Morris Thurston
Signature Books, 2007
Softcover, 213 pages including index and appendices

This book is in my reading guide at amazon.com.

Husband and wife Dawn and Morris are teachers and writers who took a genealogy course together and were hooked on the stories of their ancestors, not just the names and dates. Dawn is the author of a book about her Scottish grandparents, Remembering William Miller and Bella Bullock Miller. Morris is the author of a book about his great-great-grandfather, Tora Thurston: The History of a Norwegian Pioneer.

Breathe Life into Your Life Story
On their students: “Few begin the writing process knowing which stories they will end up telling, what themes will merge, what form it will take.”

On would-be memoir writers: “Most are everyday people writing about everyday experiences. The problem isn’t the content of their stories; it’s the way they tell them.”

On writing: “It’s obvious to most people that they can’t learn to play the piano or master an athletic skill simply by reading a book about it. The same principle applies to writing. We learn by doing.”

On recalling conversations: “Most memoirs contain conversations [and incidents] the author can’t possibly remember verbatim unless someone recorded them. We understand this, trusting the author has probably done her best to recall the event as honestly as she can.”

The Thurstons address these issues and much more by showing how to use fiction-writing techniques to write a compelling life story, including:
  • Begin with action.
  • Show rather than tell.
  • Focus on key events.
  • Give your characters (that would be your relatives, friends, colleagues) personalities and behaviors.
  • Link your life to historical events.
  • Use conflict and suspense.

Learn by doing
An appendix of learn-by-doing exercises lists thirty-nine specific things to resurrect your memories and construct your stories. Our brains are muddled by many excuses for not starting.

“My life is not worth writing about.”

“I don’t know correct grammar and punctuation.”

“People will think I’m arrogant.”

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes I can’t write about.”

To which the authors say: “Ignore the noise in your head. Trust your heart. Get your feet wet.” If you follow their plan, you will be energized and satisfied, you will develop new insights, you will have pride in your accomplishments, and at times you won’t be able “to get the words onto the page fast enough.”

Writing is a learned skill. It can be a painful struggle. But the Thurstons’ practical recommendations, based on years of teaching and observing, mentoring and coaching, writing and publishing, will not only get you started right with a solid foundation, they will keep you going to finish your life story.

“We have had the satisfaction of seeing many of our students blossom into wonderful writers.”

The book is laid out with plenty of white space so you can follow the text comfortably. To reinforce key points, the lessons are punctuated with quotes from well-known writers including E. L. Doctorow, George Bernard Shaw, Tom Clancy, and Alfred Hitchcock.

Breathe Life into Your Life Story is available online and in bookstores.

If you’ve read this book, what did you think of it? How did it help you, or not? Is there another book you recommend? To write a book review or guest article for this blog, see guidelines

Photo courtesy Dawn and Morris Thurston.

Next week: More on storytelling by master storytellers Richard and Judy Dockrey Young.

1 comment:

  1. Those are all excellent tips, and it sounds like a great book. Thanks for letting us know about it.