Everyone has a story to tell. Something exciting happened on a trip, growing up, in a marriage, to a child. We share these stories at family gatherings and people have said that they should be written down.
So you’ve decided to write a memoir. There are tons of them in the stores. Famous people love to tell their stories, in grinding detail. Every letter, phone call, promotion, movie, book is written about in list format. Sequential. With dates and who was there or not there. But these tellings lack story.
There is no depth of character, no change over time, very little conflict and settings that are devoid of description. Why?
For one, they stick to exact facts. Let’s face it, over time we forget what was said and the emotions behind the words. We can’t recall exact dates and settings. But we do remember the essence of our growing up, and that we can write about with our own breed of subjectivity.
Such retellings, to me, are boring. I want to get to know a character, including all his/her faults. I want to walk in his shoes and see through her eyes. I want to hear the pitch and cadence of voices along with the words. To see the reactions, emotional and physical. To truly be with the person as they travel through life.
When you write your story, think like a finely crafted author. Remember the things that make that author attractive to you, that keep you reading, sometimes even into subsequent books. Reread a few chapters from one of your favorite books, taking notes as you read. How does the book begin? The character introduced and developed? The conflict staged?
When you begin to write your story, do what the masters do. Begin with an interesting hook, an event so intriguing that it begs the reader to continue. Bring in the characters, one of which is you. Don’t spend sentences in physical description, but rather bring in the color of the hair down the line. Don’t have her looking in the mirror and analyzing her face. Don’t start with a dream or waking up from a deep sleep. Give us something meaty. Maybe a piece of action such as being slapped, tripping and breaking a bone or being lectured by an angry parent.
Make sure that your setting is realistic. Again, don’t spend a great amount of time describing every little thing there, but bring in the creaky gate or rustle of the leaves as necessary to give depth to the picture.
Don’t use fanciful language, but rather allow your characters to speak with a natural rhythm and pace. One way to do this is to sit somewhere and listen to how those around you talk. Write down catch phrases and patterns. Use this to develop dialogue.
It is okay to tell your story in a sequential manner, but make sure that each event gets the time it deserves to unfold.
One last thing is to consider why you want to write your story. Do you see it being published somewhere down the line? If so, pick up a couple of memoirs to read.
Again, take notes. What works or doesn’t work? What holds your interest and what makes you skim sections? Remember the negative when you write and work hard to avoid those traps.
If you intend for this to be for family only, then when you write, imagine a relative sitting in a chair next to you. How to you introduce the story to them? How do you hold their interest? What details do you include and which do you leave out?
When you are ready to write, think of yourself as a storyteller, one who has important things to share. And most of all? Have fun.