Capturing Life Around You: Recognize the Intangibles

PART 2 of Capturing Life Around You (Read Part 1 here)

When you write about your own life, you’re not just the author. You’re also the main character, and if your piece is going to compel readers to keep reading, they’ll need to be engaged.

So, how do you keep life story readers engaged?

Despite what the stars of Hollywood may lead you to believe, an audience’s true enjoyment of characters doesn’t come from their toned abs or their jaw line. It comes from the intangible things that can’t be seen.

That means that you don’t just have to pay attention to the many details floating about. You also need to pay attention to the people. There’s a famous piece of storytelling advice from Pixar that states, “You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.” It’s the effort we fall in love with.

Observe the other “characters” in your life. Do you know what they’re trying to accomplish? What motivates them toward their goals? What is their destiny? That’s who people really are.

You can create little diversions to practice interpreting, understanding and writing about the intangible features of all the people in your life. Doing so will allow you to treat them fairly when you write about them. Here are a few good exercises you can borrow:

  • Pick a “character.” Put them in an outlandish situation (abducted by aliens, alone in the wild west, lost in Tokyo) and figure out what they would do. Honor their real-life virtues and goals.
  • Imagine switching personalities with one of the people in your life. Document the ways in which your personality would change his/her relationships and roles. You’ll identify your true spirit and what makes you unique from other people.
  • Tally up the major characters in your work and write 1,000-word accounts of their lives. Don’t simply list events. Tell a narrative. Now write it in 700 words. Now 500. Now 300. Boil it down until there’s no denying who they are, what they want, and why they want it.
  • Take regular account of your own desires. Weekly, ask yourself the follow questions: What did I want today? This week? This month? This season? This year? This decade? Try asking “past versions” of yourself. Identify your biggest goals.

No matter what you’re writing, you’re writing it for people. Readers want to connect with non-fiction pieces as much as they want to with fiction, so give them realistic characters with identifiable intangibles.

NEXT POST….We’ll give the 3rd and final thing you need to do to capture your life and put it on paper!

Ready to learn how to write about your life with flair and fun? Check out our Lifestory Laboratory here!

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