Whatever You Write, Make It Read Like A Novel

No one really wants to read about your Peace Corps experience. No one wants to hear your stories or see your photographs. So, get over it. We all know that three minutes into telling family and friends about our two years in the middle of nowhere that they stop listening. Their eyes roll. They yawn. This is the Tweet Decade. If it is longer than 30 words; it’s history.

Okay, how do you tell the story of  your amazing life in the Third World as a PCV?

You grab the reader by the throat. You begin your memoir as if it is a fast pace adventure story. You start with an opening line, an opening paragraph, that compels the reader to read the next sentence and the next.

You write something like this: “My record was so bad (they sent the FBI to check up on you then) that I was first rejected by the Peace Corps as a poor risk and possible troublemaker, and was only accepted as a volunteer after a great deal of explaining and arguing.”  (Paul Theroux, Malawi 1963-65)

Or this: “I got my Peace Corps application at the post office in Red Bluff, California, put it on the kitchen table, and walked around it for ten days without touching it, as though it were primed to detonate, trying to convince myself that for a forty-eight-year-old farmer the idea of Peace Corps service was impractical and foolhardy.” (Moritz Thomsen, Ecuador 1965-67)

Or: “If you live in Equatorial Africa and you can’t afford a refrigerator, you might as well kiss butter good-bye.” (Bonnie Black, Gabon 1996-98)

Finally: “The year Detroit burned, I taught English and algebra in Dilla, Ethiopia. There were four of us ferenjis in Dilla that year. Doug, from Michigan, saved all the clippings from The Christian Science Monitor that his mother sent him about the riots and brought them out whenever a student asked him about his country. He would unfold the pictures of burning buildings and say, ‘This is my home’.” (Kathleen Coskran, Ethiopia 1965-67)

(In my next blog, I’ll tell you what to do next.)

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