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I would like to write a book about my life experiences and have it read like a fictional novel.  I've never written before but have been told by many that I have a good story to tell.  Can you recommend a reference book or something I can go by step by step to help me get started?
Thank You,
Elaine Sawyer  

Answer
Hello Elaine:

What you are talking about is called "creative non-fiction," and it means that mostly you're telling the truth but sometimes not. Writers of many kinds of books may "recreate" conversations or events of which they have no knowledge but which are confirmed by several people.

Normally I would advise a person who has "never written before" to start with some short pieces until you get some idea of what works and what doesn't, but you can do that with your life experiences as well as anything else.

Before you start writing, you need to do some planning. First you need a premise. A premise is a conviction you want the reader to come away with as a result of reading your book, i.e., "Oh, so there's a chance vampires really exist," or "Now I know what makes teenagers act so weird!" or "To be disabled means there are things you can't do, but there are a lot more things you CAN do if you keep a positive attitude and try hard." In your case, it may be as simple as "My what a life she has lived!" It's more or less what your life so far has added up to, what you have learned from it and what others can learn from it. Without a premise, your book has no serious purpose, just entertainment. This organizing process has a lot in common with goal-setting. You need a premise just as you need a goal: to show you what you're working toward, to keep you on track.

Once you have your premise, get some 3x5 cards and on them list the various life events you will include to convince the reader that your premise is true. For example, "It is always better to tell the truth," you might include occasions when you (or someone you knew - or made up) lied and got into trouble, as well as times when you told the truth and things turned out well.

With the cards done, some kind of a pattern should emerge. If not, don't worry, it will. From your cards you can make an outline. Think carefully about this until you get a pattern, then arrange things so that they flow naturally one into the other. You can, of course, just arrange events chronologically if you like. Your book must not only have structure, it must be SEEN to have structure. If you have trouble with the outline, come back, and I'll give you a sample.

Anyone who is writing a non-fiction book, even a "creative" one, needs to study essays first, for such a book is only an extended essay. My favorite site for this purpose is http://www.rscc.cc.tn.us/owl&writingcenter/OWL/Types.html. You will have to cut and paste as this site does not support hyperlinks. Read the descriptions and the samples, and pick one that fits your material.

I hope this helps. If it does, a nice rating would be greatly appreciated. I am proud of my high score over 340+ questions.

And good luck with your writing!  

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Susan Rand

Expertise

I can answer questions about the elements of fiction and non-fiction writing: how to get started, writing techniques, re-writing, etc. I will NOT write for you, do critiques except from my website at http://pygmypress.com, or give you ideas. I will not answer home-or-schoolwork questions in any category. If English is your second language, please say so, and I will make an exception. Please submit no more than one or two questions at once, as I tend to go into detail in my answers.

Experience

I wrote my first book in 1957 and have been writing and studying writing since. I have a BA in Written Communications, and have taught writing both privately and through adult education for 15 years. Have also edited (fiction books) for an online publisher and edited/wrote more than 100 articles for a teen sex education site. Currently writing web content and mentoring beginning writers.

Education/Credentials
BA degree in Written Communication

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