When the church mother takes to the pulpit and starts out with “Giving an honor to God who is the head of my life,” we know what might come next, an anecdote that describes a trial she’s experienced over a specific period of time and how that conflict was resolved.
Bet you never thought that the traditional testimony service in Black churches could give rise to a crash-course in introducing the power and art of storytelling. And even more, provides the basics that all successful spiritual memoirs possess: gratitude, authenticity and connection to audience.
Considering expanding your testimony into a memoir? Take a look at the four things you need to know if you've ever considered writing a memoir:
1. Make your characters memorable
A memoirist must think like an autobiographer and have the instincts of a novelists. The conversations you create should offer insight into your characters. Dialogue will work best when the words fit the character’s personality and remember that internal dialogue is every bit as important as what a character might actually say aloud. Creating dynamic characters is as important as the story itself; after all, they help drive your memoir. Check out Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.
2. Show a little gratitude
You might be surprised to note that showing gratitude may actually improve your writing. Studies reveal that gratitude can reduce anxiety and increase life satisfaction. This might explain the success of Gretchen Rubin’s spiritual memoir The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean my Closets, Fight Right Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. Keep a gratitude journal that speaks to what you’ve overcome, these thoughts become the narrative conflicts in your memoir, and will help keep readers turning the pages.
3. Know your audience and where to find them
Your story must “talk the talk and walk the walk.” In other words, relate. You should also know where to find passionate audiences. Face-to-face contact is important in reaching your readers, but don’t forget about social media too. Successful authors are sending out inspirational blasts or blog entries to friends, followers and email addresses collected from congregants and other audience members that have heard them speak. They’ll instantly become a part of your amen corner seeking to lift you up. Many Christian books, for example, have seen great commercial success because the author knew exactly where to reach their audience. In the pews.
4. Write it down and take it virtual
Need a place to start? You’ve shared it on Sunday, but now you have to write it out. Consider starting your memoir as a blog and build your story event by event. It’s best to begin after you’ve gathered a list of contacts. As you continue writing you can ask followers to recommend you to others. Work at keeping your quality high and finding a theme to stick to.
This Sunday, think about your own testimony and how you might grow it. I’m sure there’s a story brewing and waiting to reach far past the pulpit.
Regina Brooks is co-author of You Should Really Write a Book: How to Write, Sell, and Market Your Memoir. She is also the founder of Serendipity Literary Agency. Follow her at @serendipitylit