5 Tips for Using Personal Stories in Your Novel

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“I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.” Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

See more information at the end of the post.

I’m referring to short personal anecdotes that you incorporate into a character’s experiences. 

I consider personal stories are my own, my child’s, or my spouse’s experience in which I play a part. For example, my child needs to tell me what happened to him that day at school. I play a supporting role and experience the anecdote through my empathy and intimate feelings for my child.

Example: (A family personal experience I gave to Jace in Across the Lake releasing September 2020.)

Jace: “But it’s an accurate analogy.” He downed a fry. “When I was learning to drive, I thought I was a fast learner and an excellent driver. Then, in the Drivers Ed car with gorgeous Lisa Schroder sitting in the backseat, it was my turn to drive. Had to impress Lisa. I pulled barely to a halt at a stop sign, then pulled out to cross the highway. The instructor stomped on his brake, throwing us against the seatbelts. A motorcycle rumbled past. Man, my entire body burned with embarrassment. Feared Lisa would always judge me an idiot—the guy who tried to kill her.” Jace looked at Em. “Let me tell you, ever since that day of wanting to bury myself six feet under, I always come to a full standstill at stop signs and look both ways before I proceed.”

Tips to Successfully Enhance Your Novel with Personal Stories

Tip 1: The anecdote must have a purpose: 

  • develop a character’s strengths or flaws
  • support a story theme
  • show a lesson (In the example, Jace and Em discuss learning from experiences after Em’s eighteen-year-old daughter has had a bad experience she could have avoided.)
  • enhance the plot 

If the anecdote doesn’t have one of these purposes, then it’s probably a darling you need to edit or cut.

Tip 2: Be sure your vignette has a beginning, middle, and an end as all good stories possess. Jace’s story gives an intro (when I was learning to drive), a middle (what happened), and an ending (what he learned).

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Tip 3: You have license to and should change details to make the personal story powerful but retain the emotions you experienced. (I changed the student in the back seat to a female and built on the embarrassment my family member suffered.)

Tip 4: Write it so that it is relatable to the reader. Your experience’s commonness may be more important than its weirdness. Readers will appreciate if they can take away something from the anecdote. (Most readers remember Drivers Ed and how they feared and loathed making a mistake.)

Tip 5: Avoid a broad brushstroke story. Zero in on the details in your anecdote to bring the story alive and produce an impact. Remember senses. (Too broad would have been: “I slipped up in Drivers Ed. The instructor had to intervene. I was so embarrassed. I learned a lesson.”) 

What personal anecdote have you used in a manuscript?

18 Speaking Tips to Rivet Your Audience

“Your goal should not be to ‘deliver a presentation.’ It should be to inspire your audience, to move them, and to encourage them to dream bigger.” —Amy Carmine Gallo

image by ArtsyBee
image by ArtsyBee

If I’m going to put my trembling body before an audience, I want to rivet the members with what I believe is important.

I read, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo. Here are 18 tips from what I learned from Gallo’s book and other research. I suggest you read Gallo’s book for more tips, many examples, and explanations behind the “secrets.”

18 Tips to Rivet Your Audience

  1. image by Alexas_Fotos
    image by Alexas_Fotos
    Speak from your heart on what you believe and are passionate about .
  2. Tell personal stories that take the audience on a journey and reach members’ hearts and minds.
  3. Include unexpectedness in your stories, something that veers from what listeners expect.



image by hornstromp
image by hornstromp

4. Include villains (challenges perhaps) in your stories and heroes who rise to the challenges and succeed.

5. Deliver talks in a genuine, conversational manner.

6. Record your talk and watch for“ums” and “ahs,”distracting gestures or fidgeting, and lack of eye contact.



7. Use purposeful gestures at key moments. Gallo suggests we keep them within the borders of our:

  1. eyes, 
  2. outstretched fingertips, and 
  3. waist.

8. Employ these techniques to show emphasis:

  1. raise or lower the volume of your voice,
  2. change word delivery from normal pace (190 words per minute), and
  3. pause before or after a key word.


9.  Walk away from the podium occasionally.

10. Reveal something new or give a fresh outlook or solution on an old challenge to inform, educate, and entertain your audience.

11. Be able to write what you want your audience to know in 140 or less characters.

12. Supply a concrete and meaningful “showstopper” (a story, a video, a demonstration, a surprise guest, a prop, or a personal anecdote) to stress your most important point.

image by lizzyliz
image by lizzyliz

13. Employ humor and novelty without trying to be funny, e.g. relate anecdotes, analogies, quotes, videos, or photos that reveal humor in a situation.

14. Limit your talk to 18 minutes. If your talk must go over 18 minutes, build in stories, videos, or demonstrations every 10 minutes.

15. Keep content on slides under 40 words with one theme per slide.

16. Replace words and bullet points with pictures and reduce the number of slides.

17. Develop a “message map.” Gallo suggest we:

  1. Create a 140-character headline.
  2. List 3 key messages.
  3. Reinforce the messages with stories, statistics, and examples. (Enter a word or phrase to represent a story.)

18. Develop talks around the senses, especially vision.

Incorporate these 18 speaking tips to inspire your audience. Click to tweet.

What one thing has worked well in your public speaking?