Finding the best YOU

There’s a great old story about the 12-year-old who told his baseball coach he wanted to be the next Babe Ruth.

“That’s a noble goal, son,” the coach says. “And you only lack three things to be just like the Babe.”

“What are they?” asked the boy.

“Size, strength, and power,” the coach smiled. When the boy frowned, the coach asked, “But why must you be another Babe?”

“You know you can place hit the ball, field well, and throw accurately. Don’t try to be another Babe. Just be the best you you can be.”

The Secret: Those of us who work as biographers aren’t looking for duplicates. We want to tell the stories of unique individuals whose special talents or perspectives enlighten readers.

The defeat dichotomy

Yes, we know that defeat is the opposite of victory. But in biographies, defeat is often the obstacle folks need to overcome to achieve success.

Who wants to read a story about somebody who always wins, or never faces a disappointment or dilemma?

Charles Dickens, Benjamin Franklin, Davy Crockett, Mark Twain, Helen Keller, Franklin Roosevelt, and Rosa Parks all lead completely different lives. But their greatness came from facing a dilemma — or a defeat — and then overcoming it.

The secret: The values most of us want to communicate are honesty, integrity, kindness, and striving to improve oneself each day. Biographies about people who overcame hardships to achieve success are the best way to communicate those values.

Why read biographies?

The philosopher George Santayana said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I feel the same way about biographies, with two important additions.

1 Biographies can address not only past performance, but current performance as well. We can read about famous historical figures, and also about our contemporaries. Each type gives us insight into successful ideas and innovative problem-solving.

2. History is often written in chronology form, and discusses how one event leads to another. Biographies can be presented chronologically, as memoirs (references to highlights in a person’s life), or as a flashback (where the story begins well into a person’s life, and then looks back at the early years).

Since the beginning of recorded history, people have passed along information in the form of stories…both factual and fictional. Virtually all those stories discuss how a human solves a program.

The secret: A dedicated biography reader — using only a library card — can absorb instant information from the greatest minds who ever walked the earth. That education is free…and at the same time it’s priceless.

The ideal story format?

Way back in high school, I dreaded having to read Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. After all, it was written over 600 years ago! What could that old dude know about life in the 20th century?

But the answer was…a lot! Chaucer knew people well, because he’d been a diplomat who had worked for three kings of England. And he had also been a civil servant, where he had worked with many different kinds of people.

He brought all the skills to his brilliant Canterbury Tales, a group of stories about 30 individuals who take a pilgrimage to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket. To pass the time during the journey, the travellers decide to hold a storytelling contest.

That’s how we readers meet a knight, a merchant, a miller, the wife of Bath, and several others. Each has a story to tell, or a fable, or a legend. During the book, we hear 24 powerful tales about human goals, adventures, and aspirations which are still relevant today.

The secret: How many books, movies, and TV shows can you name that involve a journey, or a quest to pursue a career or goal? Thank you, Mr. Chaucer, for pioneering the brilliant travel story format!

Writing begins with biography

Before most of us could read, somebody was probably reading to us. We each had our favorite children’s books, or short stories.

One of my favorite times in elementary school — ranking just behind recess — was the quiet period we spent as the teacher read to us.

What did all those stories have in common? Most presented a biography or memoir of some kind, often about a mythical character who overcame some sort of obstacle.

Many years ago, some folks taught me how to format that type of story. That format became my foundation for developing all sorts of stories…fiction or non-fiction.

You can find it by going to this site: https://app.box.com/s/utykzvbdnchtltonn0uvpa01mtue4ys4

One single specialty?

My Dad, a newspaper and magazine editor, often told the story of standing at a graveside funeral service when a tombstone caught his eye. The stone listed the person’s birth and death dates, then these three words below that: “He grew peaches.”

Dad said it made him realize that many people get recognized for a single skill or accomplishment. When I mention the names Christopher Columbus or George Washington or Charles Lindbergh, what accomplishments immediately come to mind?

Before I write an essay or column, I write a word or phrase that I want that column to emphasize. With that as my goal, I can then determine the writing pathway I want to take to reach it.

Take a look at Rix’s new book: How to Sell Ideas With the Minute Message

Offer positive thoughts

This series of questions can all be answered with the same two words. Here come the questions:

What helps us remember great childhood stories? Why do we recall radio and television advertising? What do most of Aesop’s fables teach us? Why do we buy a certain brand of shampoo, or soap, or shirt, or shoes?

The answer? Each offer positive solutions. At the end of the story or advertisement, we’re given a solution that makes us happy, or solves a problem, or enhances our lives in some way.

If you must propose a problem in a story you write, can you tell the reader how to solve that problem, or where to search for an answer…or at least leave the reader with a happy thought or teach them something?

Goldilocks encountered several problems in the three bears’ house. But on the plus side, she learned not to enter homes where she wasn’t invited.

Take a look at Rix’s new book: How to Sell Ideas With the Minute Message

Readers want secrets to better lives

When I was a boy, we lived near a magic store in a shopping center. Nearly every Saturday, a bunch of us would show up there to see magic tricks.

One of the employees would demonstrate the latest inventory. We marveled at the illusions…but we didn’t find out the secret until we bought the trick.

Over the years, I’ve read hundreds of articles to find out about the secrets to staying healthy, attracting more friends, or dressing nicer. My reward, of course, is that I’ll hopefully become a better or more impressive person.

When you write articles, can you provide shortcuts or tricks to make your readers’ lives better?

Take a look at Rix’s new book: How to Sell Ideas With the Minute Message

A paragraph’s last sentence?

Seriously, how many articles have you read about the LAST SENTENCE in any paragraph? What’s so important about that?

Everything! That’s because readers won’t read the following paragraph if they’re not given a compelling reason.

So, think about it this way. To get folks interested in the next paragraph, create curiosity in that last sentence. Here are a couple of last-sentence examples:

“Where was that strange music coming from?”

“When I saw my report card I was absolutely astounded.”

If the last sentence is powerful enough — and creates a question in the reader’s mind — the reader should be excited to find out what happens in the next sentence.

Take a look at Rix’s new book: How to Sell Ideas With the Minute Message

What makes a great first line?

Some people say that the first line of a book, movie, play, essay or e-mail is the most important one.

It sets the tone for the rest of a story. But most important, it magically compels the reader to read the next sentence. And then the next. And then…

I am a “setting” writer. I try to begin every story by describing a scene or a mood. That’s sometimes hard to do, but I believe it’s critical. Let’s look at a few classic first sentences from famous books.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” — 1984 by George Orwell

“I am an invisible man.” — Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Each sentence offers few words, but those words immediately create a picture in our minds. We want that picture to come into better focus, and that’s what makes us continue to read.

Take a look at Rix’s new book: How to Sell Ideas With the Minute Message