Being able to write somebody else's story, and capture their memories between the pages of a book, is a really special skill.
Reading about a war in the newspaper gives you the facts, but reading the first-hand account of a survivor provides you with a much deeper understanding of the human experience. That's why we have so many memoirs by Holocaust and genocide survivors, and why books such as Anne Frank's diary and Olaudah Equiano's memoir played such an influential role in politics and social change. We prize celebrity biographies for giving us access to a world that most of us will never enter, and we value the memoirs and biographies of great historical leaders because they pass down wisdom through the ages. We also include case studies and interviews in reports, because people's stories help to explain how numbers and statistics affect real people in real communities. Stories provide context to hard data and help us to draw meaning from it.
Turning people into books, and preserving their stories, is an important art.
For the last session of this unit, we're going to practise writing someone else's story.
Part I: Interviews
Find a partner (a friend, family member or member of your writing group).
Choose one event in your life from the earlier autobiography exercise that you feel comfortable sharing.
Taking it in turns, you have up to 15 minutes each to interview the other person about their chosen event. Try to get as much detail and information as possible. Take notes, or record the interview, so that you can refer back when you start writing.
Part II: Biographical Writing
Using the information you have gathered from the interview, you have one hour to retell your partner's story.
You are writing biographically, in third person. I.e.: Claire Mbabazi was seven years old when she woke to the sound of plates smashing in the kitchen. She went downstairs to see what had happened...
Part III: Sharing
1. Return to your partner.
2. You can either read the stories out lout to each other or swap them and read from the page - whichever feels most comfortable. This means that the person you have written about gets to see how you have written their story. This can feel slightly uncomfortable, but treat it as a learning experience.
3. Whilst listening to or reading what your partner has written, consider:
Have they got the factual details of your story correct?
Did they capture the emotional tone of your story? If you were sad, shocked or angry in your story, have they managed to convey that?
Have they described the setting and the people as you described them in your own telling?
Have they depicted other characters and conversations in the story the way you described them?
Have they made your story interesting? Does it read like a story or more like a list of things you did?
4. Feed back to your partner on how accurately you feel they have portrayed your story.
Don't simply say 'yes' or 'no' to these questions. Offer your partner friendly feedback. If they've done something really well, say so. If something isn't quite right, what could they do to improve it? How could you help someone to tell your story better, what other details might you include?
END OF UNIT