Writing Your Memoir (part two)

Last week I shared the first two steps to creating a good memoir. Here are two more.

Step 3: Study

A. Learn professional writing techniques by reading books about how to write, studying tips on authors’ and editors’ websites, attending writers’ classes, workshops, and/or conferences.

B. Read books and web articles on how to write a memoir and read popular, recently published memoirs.

C. Learn fiction-writing techniques and read popular, recently published novels. Analyze how these authors used specific writing techniques.

If you do not want to take the time and effort to learn professional writing techniques, you may wish to hire a collaborator/ghostwriter to write your story for you. But the more you do yourself, the less your collaborator will have to do for you. This will not only save you money (and save both of you frustration), but you’ll be more likely to end up with a final manuscript you’re happy with and proud of.

Step 4: Incorporate Fiction-Writing Techniques 

Although a memoir is based on true stories, it should be written in a way that reads like a novel. Events are shown (described in active scenes) rather than told (“This happened and then that and then this”). To make your memoir a page-turner, learn and utilize fiction-writing techniques.

Here’s a brief description of four fiction-writing techniques. I’ll cover more in next week’s column.

A. Plot. A good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning shows the “main character” (you, the memoir narrator) involved in a conflict and doing something interesting. The middle of the book shows how you attempted to resolve the initial conflict and all the conflicts that came about as a result. It reveals your goals and the obstacles to those goals, as well as what you did to try to reach those goals and overcome the obstacles. The end has an exciting climax followed by a satisfying resolution.

B. Characters. In real life, we encounter many people who play a small part in our lives for a limited period of time. In a written story (even a true one), the appearance and disappearance of minor characters can be disconcerting for readers. Decide which people you’ve encountered had the most impact on the part of your life you’re going to share. Don’t include people simply because they’re important to you (or because you think they’ll be disappointed by not being mentioned in your book). Each individual in your story needs to be interesting to your readers, so include enough detail about them (and include them in enough scenes) so your reader gets to know them and like them (or at least understand them). If you choose to include people who have identical or similar names, consider how to differentiate them to avoid reader confusion.

C. Point of View. The entire memoir should be told from your perspective. Do not include anything that you couldn’t have known or experienced or observed personally.

Check back next week for more on this topic!