Creative and Memoir Writing Class Notes

October 26, 2022 Carol Brennan King

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We have been talking about writing techniques useful for both fiction and nonfiction or memoir writing. Then this last week, I was reminded of the power of voice in both genres. So next week, well, this week in class, I will tell you the story of the importance of voice.

Meanwhile, about last week’s class: we talked about fiction and memoir, both vehicles for story, but there are many other vehicles for story. Like the one right here: a collection of my poems following me and my memories around the world, or at least four continents.

If you google types of memoirs, you might come across this site:

Don’t get put off by the long list of memoir types you will see along the left. Scroll down a bit, and you will see a list of the eight most popular types:

  1. Personal: based on a particular experience or event. Think Finding my Father.
  2. Portrait memoir:  based on an event or experience of a person, not the author. Think The Secret Grandmother I Never Knew
  3. Coming of Age memoir: the book that focuses on the experiences behind the change the author undergoes as they move from child to adult.
  4. Spiritual Quest: a memoir written by a spiritual seeker on the journey to find spiritual meaning and purpose. Think: My Way Back to the Church
  5. Travel Memoir: no secrets here – the story of the author traveling. Think I Learned You Can Live Without Electricity: at all
  6. Confessional memoir: the writer confesses, then tells how she or he made up for the offenses.
  7. Political memoir: written by a person who holds public office or held public office
  8. Public or celebrity memoir: the writer shares what it is like to live life in the public eye, or with little or no privacy

But there are other approaches to the memoir.

1. For instance, graphic memoir. For those of a certain age, think comic books, only less comic book and more story with pictures. Choose one story of your life, or better yet, one of the many stories you have lived. Now imagine it with either black and white or color illustrations – maybe one scene with dialogue at a time linking the pieces of the story. Look up Persepolis by Mariane Satrapi, a memoir, cultural history of one woman’s childhood in Iran during the revolution to sample the genre.

2. We all shrink at the idea of writing our memoir, but what about writing one story,  in essay form…and not the essay you wrote back in high school or college. Lauren Hough wrote her memoir, Leaving Isn’t The Hardest Thing: Essays, one essay/story at a time, each taken from a different phase of her life and told with gritty honesty. We could tackle just one story at a time, and in the telling, perhaps find the next one.

3. Or how about a standalone essay, the short version of a memoir. Check out Memoir Monday or google Beautiful Things, a micro-essay series of 250 words.

4. Like any story, the story of your memoir can be adapted to the screen or the theater. Perhaps it comes back to you as a stage scene, and that format allows you to keep your distance, yet tell the story, almost as if you are imagining it happening to someone else. What if you don’t adapt something written, but you choose to see it in that form from the beginning?

5. How about poetry? You would not be the first. Google Thanhha’ Lai’s book Inside Out and Back Again which tells the story of a 10-year-old Vietnamese Child written as a series of short poems.

6. Taking a step further, think about prose-poetry like the one I wrote for my children many years ago for Christmas about my early years called Once Upon A Time…. Or look up Yrsa Daley Ward’s The Terrible: A Storyteller’s Memoir in her words, “What it means to lose yourself and find your joy.’ Again,, go look it up online.

7. One that goes back many years is the Epistolary or letter-writing style. Now, know that these don’t have to be original letters you wrote or someone else wrote a long time ago, but if you are selling them as a true memoir, the content has to be true. Think about writing letters to your child or sibling about an event in your life or theirs from your perspective.

8. Finally, Cheryl Strayed wrote an advice column, never dreaming she could turn it into a book, but she did, called Tiny Beautiful Things.

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