Here are a few quick guidelines and points for you to keep in mind while writing your story.
1) Tell the story from your heart - not your head. The best stories are always about a specific incident, memory or moment you experienced with your Hero.
2) Imagine you are telling the story to your best friend and you want to tell them how important and significant your Hero is in your life. Although we want to know who your Hero is, we want to read the story of why they are your Hero.
3) The best stories give us goose bumps. They have a way of moving us on an emotional level. They are good enough to make us laugh, make us cry, make us feel like we can move mountains, make us want to pick up the phone and tell someone we love them, we are sorry, we are glad they are in our lives.
4) If you are writing about your grandmother, make the reader feel one of two things:
A) They miss their Grandmother.
B) They want to meet your Grandmother because she is so special.
5) Make sure you don't just list your emotions - it is better to evoke them. To put it another way, don't tell us how you feel, show us how you feel. Think of the difference between...
"Molly was no longer breathing, just lying in the snow in her brand-new sweater. I felt so sad."
"Molly was no longer breathing, just lying in the snow in her brand-new sweater. My tears fell on the green and red stitches."
1) Please do not compare your Hero to Superman or anyone with a cape. While it may be true that your Hero has "special powers", we have seen so many stories like that, it makes it hard to take the story seriously.
2) Please do not make a list or menu of your Hero's accomplishments or good attributes. Incorporate their best characteristics into the story.
3) Please do not make it an endorsement or testimonial for your Hero or yourself.
Our story selectors tend to eliminate those stories almost immediately.
4) Please do not use profanity or try to convince the readers that your stand on an issue is better than anyone else's opinion. Controversy may sell newspapers but not You're My Hero® books.
5) Please do not end your story with a moral or opinion. The best stories end with an emotional component that make the reader feel empowered and they can decide for themselves what meaning the story has to themselves personally.
For this specific publication, we want to read stories about the dogs that have had a meaningful impact on your life. It could be that a dog in your life that helped to save someone or another animal, it could be a dog that helps you get through the day and fulfills your life. It could be that the dog helped you through a particularly trying time, or somehow communicated to you something you needed to know. People emotionally connect with stories about dogs and become inspired and moved by someone who is truly excited about what they are writing. Feel what you write and your reader will as well. Share your interest, excitement, pleasure and love for the dog and the story.
Sometimes we have a hard time knowing where to begin when writing a story. What is the best way to get your story across on paper?
You already know how to tell a story since you likely do it every day. Whenever you tell someone about something that happened to you, or something you, someone else, or your dog did, you are telling a story. When you tell someone about what you did on your summer vacation, about something that happened to you on the way to work or school, or even about your day, you are telling a story. It's easy. The question for many of us is how to put these stories down on paper.
Who is your hero dog? Where does your story take place? What did the dog do to earn such an important role in your life? What was the moment you recall as your "I will never forget this" moment? How did your hero dog affect you? How does that moment or experience continue to affect you? What did you learn? How have you grown or been transformed, motivated or inspired by this experience? Is it your dog? Is it something you saw a dog do that has had a lasting effect on you?
The most engaging stories are spoken from the heart. One of the easiest ways to get started is to think about your story as if you are telling it to a good friend. The best stories express your emotions be they sad, joyful, excited, funny - and that helps others to feel what you felt. If you feel emotions when writing your story, you are likely getting that emotion across in a way that will enable a reader to feel the same way. Think and choose your words carefully, be clear about your feelings and thoughts and that clarity will also come through to the reader.
In your story, create a scene - or pictures with words - so that the reader can relate to your story. Describe everything and use your senses. Draw the reader into what you see, hear, smell, taste. Readers will become absorbed in your story and feel like they are a part of it. Your story should have a beginning, middle and an end. The reader wants to experience your journey.
A basic rule to always remember: get right into the story. You want to grab within the first two or three sentences. Each sentence should "hook" the reader so that they want to continue on to the next sentence. For example:
A WEAK beginning: I want to tell you a story about the time my dog did...
A STRONG beginning: It was a hot, humid sunny day as we soaked up the sun and played in our backyard pool. I had just started to make some lemonade when I looked up and saw Matty, our longhaired sheep dog jumping at the door. She was barking, running in circles, and kept looking at me and at the pool. A cold shiver ran down my spine...
Ideally, your story is no less than 300 words and no more than 1500. It can be more or less, but please remember, more words do not necessarily make a better story.
Once you have drafted your story, please check it for spelling and grammar. Often it helps to have a friend or family member read your story and give you feedback both on language and grammar as well as on how well it brings the reader into your journey. Take your time and write the best story you possibly can!
Here are a couple of the stories to get you in the mood to write a great story about your hero.
I was 12. It was our first year running the fishing lodge - with only a few months notice, we packed up and moved from the city in which I was born. After a long hot summer's day of chores, I was walking back from the dock and saw our dog, Shep, feebly walking towards a shaded spot by a cottage, - he stumbled and fell over - what's wrong with Shep? He wasn't moving... I ran over, panicked...
She had appeared one day, a short time after we moved in. We tried to find out who he belonged to, but it seemed he was a stray. We figured that he must have been a mix of Collie, Sheppard and Husky. He was huge, but the gentlest dog you could imagine. Kids would tug on his hair, sit on his back, pull him this way and that, but he would never so much as growl. He'd let them have their way, or simply walk away.
Shep became my best friend when we moved from my home in Hamilton. I felt a kinship with him - he was a stray, and I felt like a stray - hundreds of miles away from all the friends I knew.
Kids were coming to our lodge with their parents, would stay for a week or maybe two, and then they were gone. Can you imagine moving and leaving all your friends behind, and then making friends and losing them every week or two? Real friendship felt like something I would never feel again.
Then there was Shep. He'd walk with me in the woods, on the beach, and he'd even come swimming with me at times. When I sat on the beach, feeling my throat get tight, feeling tears of sadness, loss and anger start to fall onto the sand between my legs, he'd be right there nudging me with his wet nose. That cool wet nose pushing under my arm made it impossible to stay sad and lonely, or angry with my parents for doing this to me.
I had a dog, the greatest dog in the world, a best friend, and he would always be there. A smile would grudgingly start pulling at the corners of my mouth. It was like he wouldn't let me feel anything but his kinship, warmth and love every time I started to get upset. He was always there, when I went to bed, he'd come into the house and sleep in the porch. When I got up, he'd come running when I stepped outside. When I was working, he followed me around. Shep was my lifesaver.
The day I saw him limping and almost falling into a heap, I went over to him and lay down beside him like he always did with me on the beach. My throat hurt, my heart felt like it was going to explode, my fears ran wild, my chest started heaving with choked back sobs. My father came over and crouched down beside us running Shep's side and feeling his legs. Shep was whimpering every time my father touched him. There were spots of blood sweeping through his fur. Dad, what happened? What's happening I cried? I couldn't believe it... was my dog dying? Someone came by and told us what they saw. Shep was attacked by a dog - a smaller dog. I can't remember what kind, but I remember what kind, but I remember being told it was a type of dog that could fight, and all it did was lunge, bite Shep repeatedly and retreat. Supposedly, it went on for quite some time. By the time it was over, Shep could barely make it back home. My father said all we could do was let him sleep and see what happened. You see, back then in the early 1970s, in the country, veterinarians weren't called for things like this. When our dogs had faces full of porcupine quills, my father would take out the quills with pliers. It was a different world for dogs back then.
So I waited. Every minute I could I would go and site with him, lay down beside him, gently pat him - especially his belly. I'd wash his dusty fur with my tears, talk to him, and tried giving him everything he had given me.
I was there for him like he was for me. I believed in him. I believed that he'd be okay. He didn't eat, drink or move for at least two or three days - some of the longest days I could remember. Then one day, I went to him, sat down and went to rub his belly... and he did something that still brings tears to my eyes... he ever so slowly, ever so slightly, raised up his leg like he used to when someone threatened to rub his belly. I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him and nuzzled his dirty fur with my nose and wept. He made it. We made it. My dog. My best friend. My hero - Shep.
As soon as the door swung open and we walked into the shelter, Barney started barking, then King joined in and within milliseconds the entire Shelter Chorus was barking, howling and yelping. They had the intensity and passion of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but sadly they lacked the tone and the harmony.
All 27 of them were "singing" - slightly off key, but at least they were all singing the same song. The song that is sung in shelter's around the corner and kennels around the world. The song that only has two words. Two words that are repeated over and over and over again - "Pick Me!" "Pick Me!" With a silently implied - "PLEASE potential Master" ..."Pick ME!"
As we took a closer look, there were only 26 dogs participating in the concert. The 27th, "Cracker" as the shelter had labelled him, sat in silence, politely listening to his buddies rehearsing.
When we made eye contact with him, he every so slightly adjusted the positioning of his front paws. As we smiled and gently nudged each other to silently say, "Check him out," we saw his tail move , slowly at first, in a gentle side to side swishing motion, then quicker as we approached the front of his cage.
When our son Michael put his hand to the edge of the cage so the dog could sniff it, Cracker positioned his body so that his chest was pressing against the front of the cage. Cracker reached through the bars of the cage and gently pulled Mike's hand toward his furry chest, then he turned his head with a nonchalant look that said, "You can scratch my tummy if you want."
It was then that my wife, Karen and my son confessed that this was the third day in a row that they had visited. Mike and "Cracker" seemed to hit it off. They were suited for each other too. Both of them fit, strong, handsome and quiet. Brothers-from-another-mother as the saying goes. Mike and Karen's plan was to get me to see how Mike and Cracker had bonded. Who can deny the special relationship between a boy and his dog. Not me.
Cracker the dog became Buddy Spilchuk that very afternoon. It only took a few days before we were all battling to be President of the Buddy Fan Club.
Each member of the family had special things we did with Buddy. He knew immediately that I was his only source of human food. At least, I was the only one to admit giving him human food. As soon as I sat down anywhere, Buddy would be in front of me, staring at me and politely offering to help me finish my meal. Who can deny an intense stare, floppy ears, a tilted head and a wagging tale. Not me.
Life goes on and situations change. In August 2008, we all moved to Toronto Canada. Karen and two of our children moved into one apartment and I moved into another, alone. We decided to end our marriage but continue our friendship. It seems that 28 years was enough.
Buddy got to stay with his master and the rest of the family. When I visited, he would always do the happy dance. I knew it was for two reasons: "I'm happy to see you Dad!" and "When do we eat?"
I visited in late January 2009. I received my typical greeting from Buddy but I was unable to fully appreciate it because I was feeling ill. So ill that the ambulance came and took me to the hospital. I had been complaining of severe back pain for three months. This time it was different, I couldn't breathe.
The E.R. doctor eventually determined I had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. What started as a one week stay in the hospital ended up as six weeks due to complications from chemotherapy and the fact that my foot was still in great pain from a previous accident when I fell through the stairs at a local business. The foot injury would not allow me to do my physical therapy and dramatically set me back in my healing.
When it was time to leave the hospital there was one small problem - I couldn't walk. The nurses spoke with our whole family and said, "Barry cannot live alone until he can walk." Karen immediately spoke up and said, "Why don't you live with us and we'll take care of you until you get better?" Hmmm, who would want to live alone in this situation? Not me.
Karen and the kids made arrangements to have a hospital bed and the necessary bathroom safety equipment delivered. I have to admit, I was a wee bit nervous moving back in. Then I remembered, everyone still loved each other...and...Buddy was there!
It had been six weeks since I had seen my furry friend. The last thing I remember about him, he was "helping" the ambulance attendants by greeting them at the door and guiding them to me, as if to say, "Here's dad, he's not feeling good." He stayed by my side the entire time the EMT's were there. He stayed by my side for the next few months as well.
Even though my hospital bed was only built for one person - it had room for one other friend. After Mike would go to school, Buddy would come to my room and hop up on my bed. He instinctively knew that I wasn't well and that his presence would help. He was right. When the nurse would come to check my blood, Buddy would check the nurse's bag to ensure there were no things that would hurt me. I knew he was just sniffing for treats, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
All in all I received eight chemo treatments, two while I was in the hospital and six as an outpatient. Buddy was by my side immediately after I came home from the six treatments. He just knew that I needed a friend and support system.
Eventually I healed from my cancer dance. Karen and the kids were amazing with their unconditional love and support. Buddy was my constant companion even though I did not have food for him every day. Now that's love!
As I am writing this story, it would be wonderful if I could say, "Buddy is by my side!" But he is not. Karen has been sick for the last few days. Buddy is lying in bed, next to Karen, because he's needed there. A true friend.
Who would ever want to live without a dog. Not me.