Thursday, May 26, 2011

Memoir - What to Include, Where to Begin

I will be teaching memoir writing at JCCFS for senior adults who want to share their life stories with family.
Many of my students are not professed writers, but men and women who write letters or have written technical papers or used writing in their careers in some way.
Like many of us, the average person thinks he/she can write the story of their life with no help from anyone. After all, who knows their life story better than the person who lives it? And so they begin, just as my 90 year old cousin did. But she never finished it. “I don’t know where to start,” she said. “Every time I get to writing I find after about ten pages in that I forgot something. Then I have to start over. I just get discouraged.”
As amateur writers, choosing the parts of your life to include is one of the hardest things to do.
“But I want to tell it all,” you say.
Helen Keller chose only the most important parts of her life to include in her autobiography.
We cannot possibly write all the memories in our brain no matter how dear they are to us. Our memory holds more information than all the sets of encyclopedia you could stack and pack into 100 rooms. We just can’t write it all.

Today memoirs are no longer autobiographies, but short and meaningful moments in a person’s life arranged in the best way to tell a story. Good memoirs should read like fiction, using many of the elements of fiction.

A memoir can begin any place in your life. A memoir doesn’t have to tell your whole life, but can be any part of your life.

Popular memoirs seldom start with “I was born on January 2, 1937, in Springfield, Missouri on Jefferson Street in a little brown house.”

We must find the story in our lives that needs to be told. We must ask ourselves, what do I want the reader to take away from reading about my life? Ask ourselves, why would the reader like this book and finish this book? How do we engage our reader? We must have a good concept, interesting events and we must use sensory detail; these three are the most common ways to balance action (what takes place) and reflection (what you think about the action as you remember it).

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