I give my end-of-week post to other authors and bloggers whose work is worth noting. There are so many excellent articles out there, so many good poems and stories and artwork that I want to use my online space, once a week, to send all of you to see something you might otherwise miss. To see last week’s episode, click here.
This week, I’m honored to feature a post by Terena Scott, memoir/book doctor, playwright, author, publisher, and hardcore book nerd. She writes at terenascott.wordpress.com.
If you think your memoir doesn’t need a plot, you’re making a big mistake.
Memoir is a story about someone’s life, right? Sure, if you want it to be boring.
A good memoir is not just a series of events shared chronologically. It is a tale with heroes, villains, conflict, subtext, and a great plot to keep the pages turning. Writing events down chronologically might be fine for a history book or genealogy, but if you want to engage your readers, you need to think about action. One event in a life has a direct impact on the next event. Everything you do effects the people around you and how your life develops.
A scene is action. Plot is a series of actions. When you outline your memoir, think about the actions that shaped your life and made you who you are.
Perhaps you were born in Cleveland, then you moved to LA when you were 10. Those are facts, and you might want to mention them briefly as backstory. Unless Cleveland essentially shaped who you are, or the move created a lot of conflict, none of that matters to your plot, and especially not to your reader. Mention it, and then get back to the story.
Or lets say you longed to get back to Cleveland and hated LA and your story is about moving back to where you feel you belong. Then be sure and add in every detail about Cleveland and why it meant so much to you.
Think about the person you know who comes to all the parties and becomes the center of attention because she tells the best stories. People listen attentively as this person weaves a story about something probably mundane, like a trip to the grocery store. It’s the way she tells how she went to the market for a quart of milk. What is she doing that makes her trips to get milk sound so much more interesting than your trips to the store?
Or what about the elderly uncle who knows everything about family history, but instead of just boring you with facts and names, he makes you feel like you know the people he remembers? What makes his stories about people who died before you were born so captivating?
It all goes back to knowing what your book is about. If you know that, you can create a strong plot that will make readers want to know more about you. Don’t make the mistake of sticking to a linear format. Writing a memoir is more than creating a calendar, it is writing about the meaning of life.
Copyright 2015 Terena Scott Photo by GaborfromHungary, Creative Commons
8 thoughts on “Spotlight Saturday #12: Plotting a Memoir”
Thanks for this insightful take on writing memoir, Terena, and thanks to Andrea for selecting and posting it. I’m not a memoir writer, but have been journaling 40+ years.
I wonder if I chose 4 or 5 challenges in my young adult life to share with my 22-year-old daughter, could my stories hold her interest. I think she’s at the age where she believes she’s the only one who messes up in a BIG WAY. I’m writing a series of Dog Leader Mysteries and a blog by the same name to advocate for humane treatment of pets, especially dogs and house rabbits.
PS. .Natasha Yim mentioned your blog and this post on our Redwood Writers’ club Yahoo List.
Thanks, Deborah (and Natasha)! I don’t write memoir, myself, but I found Terena’s article fascinating. It really helped me understand te genre. I had thought it was just cronological storytelling, which I’d never found that interesting, but saying it had to have a plot changes that. Now…who knows? I might even pick up and read some memoirs, some day. 🙂
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Hi Andrea, sorry I’ve been absent from Dog Leader Mysteries. I don’t write or read memoir. I adore biography. Recently I read “Ben Franklin An American Life” by Walter Isaacson.
Friends are writing memoir, so I guess I’ll be reading some soon. 😀
Reblogged this on Memoir Notes.
Excellent points! Thank you for sharing 🙂
I was happy to find them. Terena had some great thoughts to offer on the topic.
Thanks for stopping by!
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