Are you having trouble figuring out how to approach writing your memoir, or if you’ve started it, are you baffled about how to make it “take off?”
One way to think about possible treatments for your memoir is to take another look at those you’ve enjoyed. (You have been reading memoirs, right? You wouldn’t attempt to write in a genre you weren’t familiar with, would you? Nah. I know you wouldn’t.)
You might have read a number of books and blogs that urge writers to construct their memoirs to read like novels. Some memoirs, like my own (My Mother’s Money), happen lend themselves to a novelistic structure.
But your story might not. It’s best to choose what will work for the life events you want to recount. So, think about what appeals to you in memoirs, regardless of their structure.
You might like:
Descriptions of how things were. The family, the neighborhood, the early joys or problems, the political climate, or financial issues the memoirist experienced.
Stunning surprises. In one of her memoirs, Diana Athill opened with a description of a novelist who came to a dinner party at her house. She took to him immediately, knowing he’d become a dear friend. That section, which is almost merry, ends, “Five years later this man killed himself in my flat.” How’s that for a baldly stated surprise? In your case, it might be a relationship that unexpectedly collapses, an illness that overtakes someone, or even coming into more money than you know what to do with—anything that upsets the status quo.
A thinking narrator, who isn’t averse to wandering off on tangents to discover and comprehend connections, unravel a conundrum. (Above my desk is a quote, urging writers to “approach their subject for its mystery—as an investigator examining the unfathomable.”)
New knowledge about a lifestyle, religion, era, problem—a sort of “Oh, so that’s how landscapers (or morgue attendants, or hedge fund managers) work, live, and think.”
Admiration for the narrator’s courage and persistence, as she tackles a problem, even if others feel she should “leave well enough alone.”
Having your own ideas about how to write your memoir—what you want it to be—will make it authentic. And if a memoir is nothing else, it should be that.
What do you like in memoirs?
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