Writing Your Memoir (part three)

The last two weeks I discussed some steps to creating a good memoir. In my last column I shared a few ways to incorporate fiction-writing techniques. Here are more of those.

D. Scenes. Considering your memoir’s chosen theme and your target audience, decide which parts of your life story would make interesting scenes. For cohesiveness, one scene should lead naturally to the next (unlike real life often does).  

E. Beginning. Consider carefully the best place to start your story. The opening scene (even the opening paragraph) needs to hook readers, compelling them to continue reading to find out what happens next. (Each chapter should also end with a “cliff-hanger” that will entice readers to read “just one more chapter.”) 

F. Backstory. Don’t start with a dramatic opening scene and then leave that scene to fill in a lot of information about what happened in the past that led up to it. Weave in specifically chosen details in tiny bits and pieces as they become important to the reader’s understanding of what’s happening in the current scene. 

G. Conflict. Each scene should revolve around a particular conflict. If everything is going smoothly, that won’t be interesting to your reader. For every scene, ask yourself: What do you want? Why do you want it so badly? What’s stopping you from getting it? What are you willing to do to achieve your goals? What do you attempt to do? How does that work out for you? 

H. Description. Invite readers to experience your story with you by including brief descriptions of the people and places. Provide just enough specifics for readers to visualize, but avoid superfluous details that don’t relate specifically to the story.  

I. Dialogue. Dialogue makes a scene “come alive” and gives readers an insight into how the people communicated with each other as well as their personalities and moods. The words don’t need to be exactly what was said, just an accurate reflection that is authentic and relevant to your story. Do not use include dialect (spelling words the way they sound, such as droppin’ letters at the ends o’ words). Do not use profanity (even mild curse words or symbol substitutes), as this can offend some readers. (If cursing is integral to a scene, you may say that a character swore without using the actual words.)

J. Surprise. A good story occasionally surprises readers. If your memoir is too predictable, readers will get bored and stop reading. 

K. Climax. All scenes in the manuscript should progressively lead toward a powerful climax in which it seems impossible for you to achieve your desires. The climax should come very near the end of the book. 

L. Resolution. The last few pages of the book should show how you either reached the goal you established in the beginning or realized that you were better off going a different direction after all. How your memoir ends is as important as how it begins. While real life never gets tied up in tidy bows, the memoir needs a satisfying resolution to the particular theme being addressed. What message do you want readers to come away with after reading your story? Make sure that message is clearly communicated by the end. Don’t leave your readers hanging, but don’t draw out the resolution for too long either.