TAPPING THE MUZE
WRITING FROM LIFE
Memoir, like any narrative, requires a strong story line, well-rounded characters, and intense, richly detailed scenes that surround the reader with the remembered world. There are also challenges peculiar to the writing of memoir, and here are some tips for surmounting them.
- Memoir is not autobiography. Unless you’re a celebrity, readers need more incentive to engage with your life than simply a blow-by-blow chronology that begins at birth and tapers off somewhere near your present point in time. Memoir needs a sharp focus, a specific topic; it pulls a single thread from your life and sticks with it, letting go of any characters and incidents that don’t pertain to that one particular thread. For Addie Greene, author of How the Winds Laughed, it was the three years of her life when she sailed around the world. For me, in Entering the Blue Stone, it was helping my parents navigate the final decade of their lives.
- The author of memoir is the implicit protagonist. Although your inclination may be to hide behind the easier role of witness, it’s important to identify your active role in events, your needs and wants, your strengths and most important, your flaws, in order to bring out your own arc—in other words, how you changed over the course of the story.
- Scenes are the power source of memoir. Unfortunately, no one can remember exact dialogue years after the fact. But fortunately, readers of memoir don’t expect the author to. With your thorough knowledge of the people in your past, you can trust yourself to recreate the sort of language they might have used and craft scenes of emotional truth, if not verbatim records.
- To lay to rest the fear that the real people in your life may object to their portraits in your memoir, examine your motives in writing. Flattery or revenge or even writing just to prove a point—these motives lead to flat characters and one-dimensional stories. If your goal is to recreate a portion of your past in all its fullness and complexity, you will do your characters justice. You won’t need to apologize to anyone.
Molly would be happy to answer more specific questions from readers about writing memoir. Ask your questions on our Fuze Facebook page! Don’t forget to like us when you visit.
Molly Tinsley has authored five books, including The Creative Process (St. Martin’s Press) and has taught writing workshops for twenty years. In her new memoir,Entering the Blue Stone, the story of her parent’s decline unfolds with humor and tragedy, touching on a universal experience.
Purchase Entering the Blue Stone here.