Tips for Writing Your Memoir Carol Brennan King 2020
- Write memoir, not autobiography where you feel you have to cover everything. Think a slice of your life. Discover what you want to write about my doing the following exercises:
- Diagram your life – making lists maybe from a couple perspectives. For instance, your line might have vertical lines that show things like this:
Birth of siblings
Moves and new schools
- Chronologically. Draw a line across a page of paper. Divide it into five year or 10 year sections. Then under those sections, write in words that remind you of key events occurring in that time period.
- Think of events that made a big impression on you or changed you.
- What kind of critical choices did you make: education, marriage, job?
- Who or what were significant influences: people, events, movies?
- How did your beliefs – faith background affect you over your life?
- What were lessons you learned along the way?
- List mistakes you made through which you learned.
- Memoir is the art of selection and the arrangement of those choices
“…Think small. Tackle your life in easily manageable chunks. Don’t visualize the finished product, the grand edifice you have vowed to construct.” William Zinsser
- You don’t have to begin at the beginning. You can use flashbacks to show events that shaped you.
- Research as though you are writing about someone else. Interview people. Google prices, weather, events that will help you recall more accurately. Remember two people can remember an event differently. Research what really happened and then think through why you remember it the way you did.
- Be transparent. Take your readers along on your own emotional journey. Show your struggles, but not every one that you have experienced. Choose carefully. Readers will be bored if the main character either has no problems or has every problem. People do like a work if they can relate to something in it.
- Remember, the writing has to sound like you, like your voice, your cadence, your choice of words.
- It may be a memoir, but you are writing it like a novel because it must show, not tell. You are taking the facts of your life and telling them in story fashion because you are telling your story.
- You must show a character arc, but the character is you. The goal is to show how you have changed over the course of the book.
- Because you are telling a story, albeit yours, employing the same tools that are useful to the fiction writer is key to your own success. (Refer to the fiction lesson posted just before this one.)
- Plunge your character into terrible trouble as soon as possible – tell a story where you faced a serious challenge.
- Everything you do to try to get out of it only makes it progressively worse until…think the story of how you got the important job, or spouse.
- The situation appears hopeless.
- But in the end, because of what you have learned and how you have grown through all of those setbacks, you are able to rise to the challenge and win the day.
- Don’t give away the end until the end. Make your reader want to read the story.
- Tell the story without destroying any key characters.
- Everyone who impacted your life may not want to be remembered for what they did. It may be wise or kind to use pseudonyms to protect the identity of someone(s) who is part of your story.
- You will have to tell the reader in the introduction of the book that you have had to change the identity of a particular character but that does not change what happened in the narrative. You may also have to give the character (s) some different physical characteristics, even a different home of origin to protect their identity.
Remember, when you are writing a memoir, the point is the book cannot be about getting even, but about your growth.
If you read this, those of you who are in the class, you have probably received the email that we are suspending class for four weeks due to the corona virus. However I will continue to post information that I believe could be useful to you as you continue writing.
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