What's Your Story? Writing the New Autobiography

Use the tools of fiction writing to enhance your story, fill in memory gaps, and hold your reader's attention. Whether you're writing a novel, autobiography, or series of personal narratives, learn how to find revelation and redemption through writing. Option 1 is for writers new to this genre. Option 2 is for experienced writers with a first draft in hand, and includes written critiques.

At a glance

What: What's Your Story? Writing the New Autobiography

When: Start anytime, complete within 1 year

Where: Online

Cost: Option 1: 3.0 CEUs, $200 | Option 2: 9.0 CEUs, $495

Instructor: Julie Tallard Johnson

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For additional information, contact Christine DeSmet: 608-262-3447

Course outline PDF

What is “new autobiographical writing”?

This course is designed for those interested in mixing fiction with their facts. New autobiographical writing is the genre of choice for those who wish to tell their stories within a literature-based format.

This could be anything from a graphic novel to a novel to a literary memoir. This could involve using your imagination to fill in memory gaps or inventing ancestors to help tell your “true” story like Maxine Hong Kingston did with her book, The Women Warrior.

This emerging genre is distinct from its more traditional roots in that it allows writers to tap into the powerful tools of fiction writers and to focus not on cold hard facts but on delivering a spiritual or poetic “truth.”

Some new autobiographical writers even replace their old stories with new ones or incorporate large chunks of fictionally-inspired prose.

What’s the best way to tell your story?

Both options of this course will cover the secrets, risks, and rewards of successfully writing your life story. You will learn how to use powerful writing tools that will help you sift, winnow, organize, and transform your life story into art.

Here are some important topics that will be covered in your lessons:

  • The fallibility of memory and how to slant your story
  • The importance of plot/theme and how to structure your story
  • The differences between factual and emotional truths
  • The unique challenges of all writers who want to write their life story
  • The top time-tested tricks to help you write effectively and with ease
  • The use of humor, as well as legal, emotional, and ethical concerns

The lessons include excerpts and examples from a variety of different autobiographical or life story genres. Optional reading suggestions and exercises will guide you along the path that is right for you and your story.

How the course works

You can start this writing course anytime, and there are no required hours to participate. It's all done with one-to-one correspondence with the instructor using e-mail. We have writers from around the world participating in classes. This one-to-one mentoring opportunity will keep you on track to reach your goals.

There are 2 options: Option 1 (basic) for new writers to this genre, and Option 2 (premium) for experienced writers with a first draft in hand. The basic level includes up to 50 pages of your assignments and personal projects to be reviewed with feedback, and the premium level includes up to 100 pages. Before registering for Option 2, please contact the instructor.

Additional support via e-mail and optional meetings are also available as needed by phone.

Course content

1. The story only you can tell

  • A story needs a plot: Eliminate boring narrative, create stellar storylines
  • Map it out: Creating a chart of your life. Help with finding 6 key scenes that delineate your story
  • Find your voice: Exercises provide feedback.

2. How do you structure your story?

  • Why is structure so important?
  • Three-act story structure secrets: 9 essential elements of story structure
  • The inciting incident: Exercises provide feedback as you write key scenes.

3. Exploring the difference between emotional and factual truths

  • I remember: Tricks memory plays on you and how to handle that
  • Core emotional truths
  • Conveying emotional truths
  • Finding redemption: Exercises provide feedback on your writing

4. Take a walk on the wild side and other challenges of autobiographical writing

  • Rough roads
  • Walk on the wild side
  • Power of subtext
  • Risks to new autobiographical writers
  • Saying the Unsayable: Exercises help you tackle hard issues and things you fear saying.

5. Themes, scenes, and dialogue

  • Themes. The nature of themes in literature; what matters or not
  • Scenes. Creating vivid action and emotion with good scene design
  • A story is a story
  • Managing shifts in time
  • Why the New Autobiography
  • Dialogue tips from the professionals
  • Elevator Exercise: Exercises let you receive more feedback as you progress.

6. The tickle room and those pesky legal, emotional, and ethical concerns

  • Funny, like memory, is subjective
  • Just a bit on revision
  • Pesky legal and ethical concerns: Exercises allow you to explore using humor about moments in your life, embarrassing or not. Send in another 10 or 20 pages for feedback.