Breathe Life into Your Life Story


Breathe Life into Your Story: How to Write a Story People Will Want to Read

Dawn and Morris Thurston, both experts in creating engaging, meaningful, and memorable family histories, guide readers through the process of writing a life story sure to be treasured for generations.

July, 2007

SKU: 1-56085-094-6 Categories: , , Author: Dawn and Morris ThurstonProduct ID: 1293


Breathe Life into Your Life Story is an essential read for anyone who aspires to write a life story—but not just any story, one your family and others will actually WANT to read.

Written for both novices and experienced writers, this book presents techniques used by novelists to immerse readers into their fictional world—techniques like “showing” rather than just “telling”; creating interesting, believable characters and settings; writing at the gut level; alternating scene and narrative; beginning with a bang; generating tension, and more.

Excerpts from memoirs written by such pros as Maya Angelou, Frank McCourt, Russell Baker, and many others illustrate how best-selling authors have used these methods to hook their readers. Dozens of “Learn by Doing” exercises help readers practice and acquire the skills necessary to breathe life into their own stories.

Dawn Thurston, a graduate of UCLA, teaches writing at Santiago Canyon College in Orange, California, and has helped hundreds of students write their personal histories. She has published a history of her own Scottish grandparents, and her articles have appeared in various publications. With her husband, Morris, she has developed a popular workshop on writing family histories.

Morris Thurston, a graduate of BYU and Harvard Law School, is a retired senior partner in the law firm of Latham & Watkins. He is currently a volume editor for the Joseph Smith Papers Project and an adjunct professor at BYU Law School. His biography of a great-great-grandfather, Tora Thurston: The History of a Norwegian Pioneer, won the Dallas Genealogical Society’s biography award.

Amy Reeder Hadley is a graduate of BYU, currently working on a three-part manga drama called Fool’s Gold. She got her start by placing in TokyoPop’s “Rising Stars of Manga” contest; she hopes to make graphic novels a lifelong career.

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2 reviews for Breathe Life into Your Life Story

  1. Jeffery Needle, Association for Mormon Letters

    Many who are converts from Protestantism will remember the grand old hymn, “Tell Me The Story of Jesus”:

    Tell me the story of Jesus. Write on my heart every word. Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that ever was heard.

    It was one of the first hymns I learned when I converted to Christianity in 1968, and it remains a favorite—easy to sing, beautiful words, and a constant reminder that the life of Jesus Christ is worthy of our contemplation and, to the extent possible, emulation.

    And while this hymn will likely live forever, another hymn, not yet written, is likely to disappear in about an hour: “Tell Me The Story of Jeffrey.” No, I haven’t written this story yet, and likely will not do so. Nothing memorable, and nothing much worthy of emulation. Like most people, we find our own lives rather unexciting.

    Mormons, on the other hand, have a passionate desire for life stories. The challenge to “redeem the dead” has flowered into a full-fledged frenzy of journaling, record-keeping, and sharing of family histories. I’ve read a few of these. Some have been interesting, others have been, well, about as dull as my own story would be.

    The Thurstons have written a clever and lively how-to book with the tasty subtitle “How to Write a Story People Will Want to Read.” This is harder than you may imagine. Even the most interesting life can be written in a dull, lifeless way. The Thurstons want all of us to know that there are techniques that can be learned, and practiced, in pursuit of a lively, readable story.

    Much as an exercise instructor teaches his student to breathe and bend, to twist and turn, the authors transform the awesome task of writing into a series of rhetorical exercises. Step by step, they lead the prospective writer through the steps of building a proficiency in telling the story. They detail the pitfalls many writers face, and explain how to move from envisioning your project to bringing it to completion.

    Each lesson has a “Learn by Doing” exercise, designed to hone the skills taught and to give the writer the confidence to move on to the next step in the writing. In the margins are quick inspirations and, at times, hilarious observations by writers we know and respect. I will admit I laughed out loud at this impatient bit of doggerel by the rascal George Bernard Shaw: “Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine right of articulate speech, that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and the Bible; so don’t sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.” (p. 135)

    Aw, come on, George, give me a break. Starting a writing project makes me croon. But, old Shaw has a point. We do share the language of some of the great writers. And, yes, we do have the “divine right of articulate speech.” But do we have the human ability to write in an articulate and interesting manner? The Thurstons seem to think so.

    Finally, I must observe that the authors take a holistic approach to writing. They insist, and I agree, that one’s entire life must go into the project. People who read your life’s history want to relive that life with you. They want to walk where you walked, even breathe the air you breathed, as much as is possible through the medium of the printed page. The authors are relentless in pushing the aspiring writer into achieving a great victory over the fear and uncertainty that face new writers.

    Breathe Life Into Your Life Story is a great introduction to writing that even experienced authors will find helpful. I’m not sure that people will want to sing a hymn to you, as we do to Jesus, but maybe this isn’t the greatest of goals. Maybe we should be aiming at developing the confidence, and the skills, required to pen an exciting autobiography. This book is an excellent place to start. It is highly recommended

  2. Midwest Book Review

    Writing teacher Dawn Thurston and award-winning ancestral biographer Morris Thurston present Breathe Life Into Your Life Story: How to Write a Story People Will Want to Read, a no-nonsense guide to crafting an engaging autobiography. memoir or personal history. Chapters cover how to write at the gut level and reveal one’s feelings, what to do and not do when writing about specific places, connecting the events of one’s life to history, using suspense and conflict to draw the reader further in, and much more. A wealth of “learn-by-doing” exercises round out this excellent self-improvement guide highly recommended for would-be biographers, and also packed with valuable tips, trips and techniques for aspiring writers of fields.

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