Creative Writing: Fiction and Memoir

image from

Carol Brennan King September 15, 2021

Creative Writing: Fiction

but as important for Memoir writers as well!

Today we rehearsed the importance of thinking in scenes and how to get into the scene, whether it is the first one of the book, of the chapter, or anywhere else in the book. We cannot assume our reader will stick with it if we haven’t written our story or book with them in mind. We must answer the question, “What will keep them reading?” or “What will hook them?”

We talked about SEVEN different hooks we can use to “Catch and Keep” our reader.

  1. The first hook we talked about is the “Why?” hook. You must give the reader something that stirs their curiosity, something that makes them ask why you just wrote that, or why did the protagonist or narrator say that. Their desire for the answer will spur them on to engage with the work.
  2. Secondly, the first character the reader usually meets is the protagonist, the main character, and you must show the reader things about this person that makes them want to know more. Is she sobbing at her desk? Is he running down the street? Is he in a fight? Or on the phone? Does this person limp into the room? or throw the phone or burst into song? Whatever you show the character doing or saying must draw the reader in, must begin the journey to caring for the character and wanting to know more.
  3. An easy hook to use is the danger hook or catastrophe hook. You open that first scene with something big happening. She notices he has stopped breathing. He hears the unsettling sound of wood breaking and watches as water pushes the wall toward him. He is working in the garage, she is picking tomatoes in the back yard when shards of metal rain from the sky, and they never remember which came first: the pieces of the airplane or the high-pitched explosion.
  4. The fourth hook could be the first. Being fourth doesn’t mean it is the fourth thing that could happen, that you write about. It is just fourth in this list of options of how to get into the story, the setting. You might open the scene like this: Fireflies twinkled in the twilight as they picked up the debris from the birthday party, paper cups, napkins, shreds of gift wrap like snow between the patio and the short dock where a rowboat was tied up.
  5. What if your piece started with this line? Well, look at this: all your priceless evidence! Looks like someone used it to start a fire! What emotions do you feel here? Showing someone exhibiting conflicting emotions is a good way to stimulate curiosity. In the illustration here, priceless evidence means someone has worked hard to gather really good evidence. Use to start a fire means exactly what you think it does; some or all of that hard work is gone. Maybe the narrator is happy about that, for reasons you will learn. But assuredly, the person who gathered the evidence is, though proud the evidence was described as priceless, now devastated because it looks like it is gone.
  6. Open with a statement that indicates or introduces problems or conflict already existing in the situation. Like this one: “I don’t think this door was locked,” she said as she pushed it open. Something has already happened.
  7. The final hook is what we call the goal hook. Early on the reader discovers what the protagonist or the main character or one of the main character’s goal is. Think how this line would impact your desire to read the story: “Well, if your dad did say you were inheriting, you’d better find the will that says that because this one doesn’t … say that.”

Your assignment for the next week is to write a scene where you use one or more of these hooks. Remember, you can use this assignment to continue a project you are already working on or use to explore another story line. 100-1500 words to read in class.

Check out this site for more on this subject:

Memoir Writers

We rehearsed in this class two important elements of our story-telling: the significance of being character-driven and the fact that memoirs, or all stories are written in scenes.

Memoirs must be character-driven. After all, this is about a person’s life, or a slice of that person’s life.

  1. The reader must grow to love you, at least must feel as though they can relate to you because you are being honest. It is tough to relate to someone who is perfect. It is their flaws that draw you on. So, are you ready to be vulnerable, even funny and laughed at? Are you ready to be open about the messes that you made? The work must show your pain, your failures, but thankfully, for the story to succeed, it must also show your growth.
  2. Remember, the story does not begin with a fully formed and mature you, unless you start there only as a brief introduction, and the rest of the work is your flashback where you show how you got there, as a mature person. So, the person at the front end and the person at the other end of the story are two different people. Show that growth journey.
  3. Key is the moment you crossed over from the side of needing maturity to the side of when you actually begin growing into maturity. Can you identify when and where that happened? What was it that tipped you in the right direction?

And then there are the scenes!

  1. Think about listing the scenes or events of the hero’s journey. Remember, a memoir is a slice of life, not the whole thing. As you prepare to write your memoir, do the 100 scene list. Make a list of the 100 most significant scenes or events of your life. Then sort through them to see if there are several that are linked or related. You might well end up with the bones or scenes from several memoirs.
  2. Think about the scene that will show who you were at the front end of this memoir. Like I’d always wanted to be a mom, just not a single mom with no education.
  3. And then the scene at the other end. I closed my classroom door softly, with affection. This was my classroom door, and this time, I was the teacher.
  4. Be honest here as you write the framework or outline of your story. It is in the irrelevant (to you right now) details that your reader will grow involved. Remember you never know which detail will ring familiar or which one will be the one in which they will see themselves. What were you wearing? Were you happy with your hair style? Did you live on a clean street? Did your teacher know your name for good reasons?
  5. Then, use your imagination. See your life as a movie. How can you write scenes, so they will be believable and look great on the screen or the page. Remember looking great means look authentic and relatable.
  6. I like to think first of how this whole thing looks. I need to know, and I think you do to, the beginning, the middle, and the end scenes. Once they gel, you will begin to see how to fill the rest in. But I encourage you, See them, those scenes.

We also talked about themes.

  1. Is this piece about self versus self? Do you have to overcome your own self-talk or fears?
  2. Is it self versus other – think about a message you believed perhaps that came from a parent or teacher or neighbor. Is there some lie or even truth you were told that has held you back?
  3. Or is it self against nature? Have you ever had to overcome or find your way through a hurricane, a fire (the ripple effects of a fire), a flood, even think about primitive camping or hiking.

This discussion is related to what we talked about last week in our discussion about the premise of our story.

And don’t get stuck on the breadth of the three theme types listed above.

Check out these websites to look at other possible themes:

And then there’s an assignment to help you grow as a writer:

Choose a theme and write it down. Then write a scene from your memoir with that theme in mind. 100-1500 words to read in class.

Have a great writing week and I will see you in the Ryon Room or on Zoom.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s