Writing Your Memoir (part four)
The last three weeks I discussed some steps to creating a good memoir. Here’s one more.
Step 5: Revise
After you have a detailed outline and a completed first draft, it’s time to let out your “inner editor” and make some improvements.
A. Revisit Step 1 above. Does everything in your manuscript:
a. relate to your specific theme?
b. appeal to your target audience?
c. fit with your chosen voice?
d. have a consistent tone?
e. follow a logical order and flow smoothly?
B. Take out any “inside jokes” that only your and your family and friends would get.
C. Consider how what you write will affect other people if your memoir gets published. If something is potentially controversial, you may wish to change some people’s names and any details that may make the individuals identifiable to theselves and/or people who know/knew them. Put a disclaimer in the front of your book stating that some names and identifying details have been changed.
D. If your memoir includes references to a particular culture, important people or events in history, details of careers or hobbies not your own, etc., double-check your facts for accuracy. Errors, even minor ones, will undermine your credibility with your reader.
E. Read the manuscript aloud, one “character” at a time, as if you were an actor in a play, and act out the motions mentioned in the text. Listen for places where the dialogue sounds forced, stilted, or unrealistic, or where a person’s speech is inconsistent. Watch for places where an individual stands when he/she is already standing, sits when he/she is already sitting, stops being involved in a scene without actually leaving the area, fails to react appropriately, etc. Look for places where a character or object suddenly appears in a scene (or disappears).
F. Tighten your manuscript. Consider every chapter, scene, paragraph, sentence, even every word. Could it be deleted without losing anything important or changing the meaning? If so, cut it out (no matter how fond you may be of it). You will be tempted to include certain scenes or details because they are exciting or important to you, but if it isn’t relevant to your theme, bite the bullet and take it out. (Save it for your next book if that makes you feel better.) Eliminate all unnecessary details. Provide only enough backstory or specifics to explain the context of events. Don’t overwhelm readers by giving too much information. Don’t bog down your story with a lot of adjectives and adverbs. Use powerful nouns and verbs instead.