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Why You Should be Telling Stories in Non-Fiction (The Self Publishing Show, episode 219)
How I Embraced Vulnerability to Tell the Story of Becoming Starlight
by Sharon Prentice, PhD
Writing a book. To be quite honest, the thought had never entered my mind; I’d never written anything other than personal prose or patient charts that were never meant to see the light of day. The idea was so remote that it would’ve been, as in the Twilight Zone monologue, like “opening a door into a fifth dimension of thought and sound, as timeless as space, as vast as infinity.” But once the possibility was introduced to me, I had one reaction: exposing the secrets that lay hidden within my Soul sent chills racing through the recesses of my very being. I couldn’t let it go, though — once unearthed…the thought simply would not leave me alone!
Imagine, if you will, standing on a stage, alone, in front of hundreds of people unknown to you, while guffaws and ridicule, barbs of judgement undeserved and previously unknown are all directed your way! A dizzying array of emotion and confusion filling your Spirit with every direct hit…and then, you realize you are, as my dad liked to say–naked as the day you were born! It’s then, possibly for the first time, that you begin to understand the concept of unadulterated vulnerability.
No one enjoys feeling vulnerable. Especially those of us who exist in environments created to keep vulnerability at bay. But there comes a time when life slaps you awake–and you can no longer exist within the protective bubble that served you so well in your private life.
Every writer understands this concept of vulnerability. Opening up to that bone-shaking, fearful reality—that I would be vulnerable–was the beginning of my journey into the world of publishing. Accepting that in order to tell my story, I would have to surrender my oh-so- carefully tucked-away secrets to public scrutiny was my biggest hurdle. But it was one that needed confronting and eventually–conquering.
To tell my story… was exactly what I needed to do! One of my greatest mentors, Dr. Wayne Dwyer, before his death, told me, “Tell your story, Sharon. Tell the story.” The beginning of the writing process for me was the recognition that I was more uncomfortable staying silent than I was letting the words flow free and accepting the vulnerability inherent in exposure. Naked body or naked Soul–same thing!
But how and where to begin? What exactly did I want to say–or have to say–in this effort to release the words that were forming in the underbelly of my soul? Instead of letting anxiety rule the day, I simply sat myself down…grabbed pen and paper…and let the floodgates open.
I didn’t change my physical environment…I embraced it. The old La-Z-y Boy recliner that had been my dad’s “home base” before his death became my sacred space. I felt safe and peaceful. It became my home…my sanctuary. My body just seemed to conform to the indentations that had, for years, become its very nature and I felt as if it “knew” me. I didn’t feel the need to have a totally private, quiet, locked away space that had no recognition of me and the joys and sorrows of my life. It was there, on my dad’s well-loved recliner, that Becoming Starlight was birthed.
But even in that sanctuary, I found myself chasing words. It was irritating as the words seemed to erupt and run like madmen away from my conscious mind. The more I chased after the words as they fled the scene, the more irritated I became. Was this the well-known “writer’s block” rearing its ugly head? Or was it simply me trying to force something that simply couldn’t be forced? The operative word here became–relax! I needed to relax and just let it flow. Not trying to force each and every thought into some perfect form of writing saved the day! I stopped worrying about tense and punctuation and dangling participles! I simply put pen to paper and wrote the story.
It was then that the sacred words fell into place. It was then that the words found their place and told their story. My process needed acceptance of the vulnerability of the story that needed to be told. I let the invisible dancer lead the way and make the pen I held in my hand dance.
Becoming an author can be a life-altering decision! Finding your own safe space, your own sense of security, allowing the unfolding of the magic within…effortlessly…is the first step to creating and releasing the music in your Soul. Drawing out that music for healing and comfort…uncovering the shadows that haunt the human condition–that’s what it’s all about and what I hoped my readers would find.
About the Author:
Dr. Sharon Prentice is the author of Becoming Starlight: A Shared Death Journey from Darkness to Light. Soon after completing her graduate studies in psychology, Dr. Prentice longed to discover “the why’s” about her own intimate experience with death in the form of an SDE, and that of others who had experienced something “weird, unbelievable, odd” at the time of the death of a loved one. Dr. Prentice is in private practice as a Licensed Clinical Pastoral Counselor – Advanced Certification. She is also a Board Certified Spiritual Counselor (SC-C) and holds Board Certification in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Group Therapy, Integrated Marriage and Family Therapy, and Crisis and Abuse Therapy. She is also a Board Certified Temperament Counselor. Dr. Prentice is a Professional Member of the American Counselors Association, a Professional Clinical member of the National Christian Counselors Association, a Clinical member of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, and a Presidential member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. She is also a Commissioned Minister of Pastoral Care. For more information, please visit https://sharonprentice.com and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.
Structuring a story is a challenge that writers meet in one of two ways: either they outline diligently before they write so much as a sentence, OR: they fire up the word maker and see what happens. The former are called plotters. The latter people are called pantsers and I am one of them.
The difference between the groups lies in how comfortable a writer is with chaos. To write is to literally visit a foreign land. Plotters like to have an itinerary. They know where they will be in the morning, where they are eating lunch, etc. Pantsers wake up and walk out the door with nary a thought for the day. Plotters attempt to impose control. Pantsers attempt to maximize experience.
I view writing as a discovery process. It lets me explore the characters, their interactions, the plot and setting. It lets me feel the story. I’m frequently surprised by what occurs, which leads me to more character driven, organic stories. For plotters, the outline process performs the same function. The end result for both groups is a story that is thematically and narratively coherent.
For me a story begins with either a situation or an image. If I see an image then it is usually the climax. Seven men on a sailboat in the Pacific. One of them is trying to sabotage the boat, everyone knows it and everyone is on edge. If I have a situation, it is usually the inciting incident. A dying billionaire wants to read his obituary so he fakes his death.
Why my brain works like this is not something I think about. I believe it is churlish to be picky about how one receives inspiration. One does not find a ten dollar bill on the sidewalk and get upset it was not a twenty. Inspiration is a gift.
Next I figure out the bones of the story, a.k.a. structure. Authors use story structure because it is how people’s brains and hearts respond to narrative.
In the first act, the character sees a flaw in the normal world and ventures into the unknown to fix it. In the second act, the character faces myriad challenges to create a solution to the problem. In the third act, the character braces for a final showdown to win the prize and restore the normal world. This template covers everything from Star Wars to Liar Liar and all points in between.
Let’s talk about storytelling. Or rather, let’s talk about the medium through which storytelling is told and perceived. This is such a fascinating topic I couldn’t resist writing about it.
What is your choice of medium when it comes to books? Paperback, an ebook, or audiobook? I have particular interest in how audiobooks affect our perception of a story. Just stop yourself and consider this one thing. Medium. According to Google medium is defined as the following:
1. An agency or means of doing something.
2. The intervening substance through which impressions are conveyed to the senses or a force acts on objects at a distance.
Both definitions are great, but I prefer the second one because it provides more insight into the topic. Some readers prefer the tactile and visual feedback of a book any day over a digital one. Others hail the ebook over any dinosaur book. I’ve always had trouble digesting books in physical form for some reason. But when the advent of the ebook was created I became a book addict.
Others prefer yet another medium of storytelling. The audiobook. People are listening to more and more audiobooks these days, including myself. Why? What affect does the audiobook have upon the reader? Or better yet, what affect does this medium have upon the listener?
The narrator and his or her performance is the medium through which the story is perceived. No two narrators are the same in skill, personality, voice, training or delivery. So in a sense, you’re getting a completely different medium with each and every narrator. Cool eh? I thought so. But it doesn’t end there.
According to Professor Mehrabian, only 7% of communication is verbal, and 93% nonverbal. Or, the nonverbal component would be 55% body language, and 38% tone of voice. There is some debate about this (of course), so we have to take into consideration other factors such as context, etc. I’ll spare you the boredom. What I’m getting at is the paralinguistic, or paralanguage part of communication that makes up 93%.
Writing to convey ‘what’s not said’ is extremely hard, but the best writers do it with much practice. What’s not said makes up a huge portion of communication, meaning and in understanding another person. This is critical in the context of storytelling when conveying a character properly.
They say that the nonverbal component is broken down into body langauage and tone of voice. Body language being 55% and tone of voice 38%. When you read a book the author has to convey this information adequately. All the nonverbal tells of communication must be rendered by the authors writing. Good writing does this well, but anything less is lacking a lot of useful information.
Now you throw in a narrator. I love narrators! We have to see the entire story through their eyes and skill amongst other things. These are what linguists call Paralinguistics, or paralanguage. Which basically means everything that isn’t verbal. According to the aforementioned statistics it means everything as far as understanding another person’s attitude, motive, mood, personality etc. All this must be skillfully conveyed through the narrator.
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