I remember asking my boss for help a couple of years ago and it prompted me to write in my journal, “My younger self wouldn’t have done that.” Then, I wrote the part of my story that went from flying high to sinking to the depths before being lifted up and changed. It’s my personal redemption story and it’s how I learned the power of love and grace. I’d like to share a brief version of that tale as a writing example, and then dissect some storyboarding elements. The purpose is to inspire you to record your own journey of transformation and growth. It’s what your family wants to read because these experiences become core to who you are.
Part I – The abridged version of my grace story
My younger self—the arrogant girl who thought she could do everything on her own—was struggling on all fronts. It was 2003, and at work the family business was reeling from instability in our foreign markets. Something in me had made it my responsibility to fix everything, so I worked my guts out. I made good money, had a graduate degree and the title of CEO before I was 30. I was distance running. On the weekends, I had as much fun as possible to relieve the stress.
Was I trying to make up for getting married right out of high school? Or was I tired of always being the responsible one? “I don’t believe in regret,” I told myself, so I proceeded to make a slew of decisions that I would, in fact, regret: drinking, partying, and basking in attention from the opposite sex that I had never received in my life—always the bookish ugly duckling before. Y.O.L.O., right? I wanted to try everything until I sensed that with one good tug, the knitting of my life would soon come apart. I had lost my faith, and faith in myself.
I never thought to reach out to anybody, partly because of pride and partly because I didn’t believe I deserved help. Cause and effect, or choices and consequences, were my creeds. I was like a strong swimmer on a bluebird day thinking that riptide signs didn’t apply to me. Plunging into the surf, I had a great time until emotional currents dragged me out.
I squinted at the shore but didn’t want to bother people having a good time. So I swam a little harder. I would not wave an arm to let anyone know I was in trouble. Not my friends, not my family, not anybody. These were my decisions, I thought. I would figure it out.
It finally dawned on me that I needed help when I had stopped paddling. I was floating on my back now, just keeping myself from slipping under. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for help until I finally understood the truth: I would drown without it.
The day I broke a 10-year silence with God is still sharp in my mind. I had taken a day off work to be alone. Slumped on the living room carpet with fingers clutching my hair, I sobbed and repeated, “I know I don’t deserve it, God, but I can’t bring myself to ask anyone else. If I knew what to do, I would. But I don’t. Can’t. Will you help me?” I calmed myself down and inhaled very deeply before I added this. “I am finally ready to change. I trust you. Please.”
I somehow knew that help would follow, but I expected to sit through a stern lecture first. It never came. Not from God, anyway. What I received instead was one of the most profoundly spiritual experiences of my life, a once-in-a-lifetime moment that delivered this message: “I love you. You are beautiful. You have potential.” It came with a wave of compassion that humbled me further and left me trembling with gratitude. This feeling made me want to become the person God already saw in me, tattered as I felt.
It was grace, not guilt, that gave me the courage to change. Rather than having my nose rubbed in all the ways I had frittered away what had been given to me, I felt enveloped in love. I was shown who I could become. Self-loathing had prevented me from seeing it, but I came to understand that we are all worthy, and we are reborn any time we reconnect to the source that created us and lives within.
That next year, I built a new life from scratch. Divorce. Sold a house. Bought a house. Left the family business. Started a new career. Went back to the church of my childhood. Might as well get it ALL over with, right?
That was the year that I learned the power of humbly asking for help. I experienced the healing balm of compassion when I had been expecting judgment. A lecture would never have saved me, but love did. My truest friends also deserve credit for buoying me up once they learned how deeply I was struggling. I lost some relationships, but others became stronger. My family also never wavered in support.
Part II – Is your Story about Transformation? (Hint: All Great Stories are.)
What is your story about? Is the theme focused on change and growth? If you thought your writing assignment was to capture the major events of your childhood or preserve nostalgic memories of your hometown, I encourage you to dig deeper. As fun as those details are, they are only the setting. What your family really wants to read is how you overcame life’s greatest challenges.
They want to read stories about love, and triumph, and your dark night of the soul. About the time you almost died, and how you felt when your children were born. You don’t have to be a great writer or storyteller to hook people if the story itself has the right elements. Redemption stories naturally have the right elements.
Also keep in mind that even when sharing short stories or tales with lighter themes, readers still want to see how you learned and changed. Even mini vignettes and romantic comedies follow these patterns and can pack big lessons when they show transformation. Redemption stories, no matter what the tone, teach without being preachy. Your readers will glaze over the moment you begin a litany of life lessons. But they will pay attention if you give them a story with a beginning, middle, end, and a big problem to overcome.
Resist the urge to spell out the moral of the story. Pull back from listing the life lessons you learned, but instead have a little faith that your readers will figure it out on their own. It will mean more to them when they do. So, instead of summarizing what you think they should learn from the story, inspire others by telling how you came to believe what you do. Trust me, this is probably the only method that will get through.
Part III – How to Write a Compelling Redemption Story
Before delving into storyboarding, let me say it again: every story worth writing is about transformation, no matter what the subject or the tone. So although the very most compelling stories focus on rock-bottom grace and redemption, the tips in this section apply to any story or vignette you are working on.
Storyboarding works because the human brain is wired to pay attention when stories follow familiar patterns. Great Hollywood screenwriters write storylines that hit predictable “beats.” When I learned the Hollywood storyboarding method, it was a revelation to me. That is because I began seeing that people’s lives naturally hit all the right beats in all the right places, you just have to know what to look for. My job as a biographer then got a whole lot easier: highlight the good parts and cut the boring stuff.
I get lit up about the storyboard method because it works just as well for 2-page vignettes that stand alone as it does for scenes within a longer story. Meaning, I use the exact same template for mapping the overarching narrative of a full book. The process always feels electric to me, and the currents of creativity prickle the hairs on my arm while I am working. I am not exaggerating; this is really what happens to my skin when I discover the beats and themes of someone’s true story. It makes me shake my head and think, “It’s all right here!” That is why, aside from interviewing clients in person, storyboarding is my favorite part of the process. (You can get the storyboard I use in the tool kit below.)
Here are some quick tips that go along with the storyboard method. I wish you all the best in using them for your own storytelling. Please drop us a line if we can help you in your writer’s journey.
7 Rules for Writing a Redemption Story
- Every story has a hero. It has to be about someone.
- The hero starts out flawed, but likable. The more mixed-up the hero is in the beginning the better.
- The hero is changed by the end. The hero has confronted his/her biggest weakness and has changed by the end. This growth is called the hero’s “arc.”
- The hero has a goal. Our hero embarks on an adventure to attain that goal or fix a problem. This is what the hero wants.
- The story is really about what the hero needs. This is a spiritual goal.
- The story has a theme. This is what our hero learns along the way.
- Every great story is about transformation. Readers feel satisfied by a redemption story because seeing a hero grow gives us hope that we can too.
Rhonda Lauritzen is the founder and an author at Evalogue.Life – Tell Your Story. Rhonda lives to hear and write about people’s lives. She believes that when you tell your story, it changes the ending. Rhonda and her husband Milan restored an 1890 Victorian in Ogden. Along with writing, she especially enjoys unplugging in nature. Check out her books: How to Storyboard, and Every Essential Element. Most recently she was the writing coach of bestselling author, Rob A. Gentile, who wrote Quarks of Light, A Near-Death Experience: What I Saw That Opened My Heart
Questions on writing your story? We’d love to hear them!