How to Write Your Story
Over the course of this project, we have worked with many writers who, like yourself, may have limited formal training or practice in writing. Ideally, you can join a writing workshop with an instructor and other participants in order to embark on the journey of telling your story. But if such a venue is not available, you can write your story independently, with a collaborative partner or form a writing group of your own. Regardless of what method you use, you utilize a similar set of principles.
The following tips have been effective in getting the workshop participants to write good stories, and, by extension, can help you—step by step—through the creative process.
1. Memories and Objects
To begin, make a list of ten to twenty concrete memories and objects that you associate with incarceration and/or resettlement. For example, a pet, a bicycle, trains, barbed wire, barracks, a dust storm, a blizzard, a baseball game, and so on.
- Find a comfortable place to write with whatever supplies you need: pens, pencils, Post-Its, file folders.
- Do a freewrite on one of the memories or objects in which you create a scene with sensory details, plot setting, and characters. You can write about the loss of your pet, a train ride to or from camp, or a dust storm. Don’t worry if memories overlap or mix together.
- If helpful, before you write your thoughts or memories on paper, try to say them internally, visualize them, or even whisper them to yourself first. Then transcribe the words and phrases you have mentally formed and/or are speaking to yourself onto paper.
- Keep your hand moving across the page. Feel free to write spontaneously, without structure, in lists and/or phrases and single words. Do not worry about grammatical errors, put in as much detail as possible, and allow for any discoveries to happen.
- If you can’t remember what happened, consider using memory as a theme; you can start your piece with a phrase like, “I can’t remember” and then create a catalogue of things you don’t recall.
3. Revise, Sharing, and Expansion
- Look through your finished freewrite.
- Circle or underline any “hot spots”—that is, strong, vivid passages and your favorite parts of the story.
- In the other parts, add in more detail, strengthen existing scenes, and delete what seems unnecessary. Then read the story aloud to yourself and ask yourself these questions: Does the story convey what you want to say? Can you—and your target audience—feel and visualize what you are writing about?
- After this step, you can read your story out loud to a group and get further feedback from them. If you don’t have an instructor and/or group, a trusted reader—a friend, a family member, a spouse—can review your piece.
- Use the feedback from your instructor, group, or individual collaborator in the revision of your story. If necessary, your collaborator can also assist you with more practical matters like typing up your piece. Inputting your piece into a computer file is recommended so that you can more easily modify the document as needed. Please double-space your document to allow ample room for comments.
- During the revision process, keep a journal or tablet to jot down ideas as they occur to you. Review your story a little each day, don’t rush, and pace your energy and time. Feel free to delete and rewrite often. Even if you set aside material, save it—you may be able to use it for a future story!
- Allow ample time to reflect. Books like From Our Side of the Fence and Making Home from War can give you good examples of stories on incarceration and resettlement written by other Nisei and provide you with inspiration and ideas.
- Check with family and friends to verify facts and dates. Use any helpful references, including photos, news articles, videos and magazines. When applicable, do research at the library, on databases, and the internet to find articles which you may want to cite as sources for your stories. If you do utilize sources, make a list which includes the author’s name, title of the work, publisher’s name, place of publication, date of publication, and page number(s) of the work for a Works Cited page.
- Create a realistic deadline date and make it your goal.
4. Review and Final Story
Once you have completed your revised piece, have your instructor, group members, and/or your collaborative partner read it. With this new version, your group/collaborator can focus on answering these questions:
- What are the strongest scenes and why?
- What scenes could be improved and where is more detail needed?
- Can the setting, plot, or characters be developed?
- Is the structure and chronology effective and clear? Does the piece have a clear and effective sequence: beginning, middle, and end?
- Can any sentence level issues—phrasing, style, grammar—be addressed?
After you have received comments, use them to revise your piece into a finished product. Contact your instructor, group members and/or partner if you have questions.