There are a variety of things that readers and writers alike would say about great non-fiction and memoir writing. Here are nine that I feel best encompass what makes these stories so great.
- Honesty. Your audience wants to know the good and the bad. That means some of your darkest secrets or embarrassing moments may be revealed. Sharing your imperfections is a great way to open your audience up to their own, creating a deeper connection. Make sure as you recollect the adventures you have experienced, use the simplest moments alongside the biggest moments and make them feel like the day to day life you actually live.
- Humor. Speaking of moments, we all have ridiculous things happening to us on a regular basis. I for one am known for my uncontrollable laughter. Even when we tell stories that someone doesn’t laugh at, it can spark something inside of…
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By: Marilyn L. Davis
“A storyteller makes up things to help other people; a liar makes up things to help himself.” ― Daniel Wallace, The Kings and Queens of Roam
Near-death motorcycle accident at 17, cervical cancer diagnosed at 19, hysterectomy at 23, drug addict by age 30; does any of that sound familiar? Probably not, and so I’d lose readers before they even picked up the book.
Memoir must contain more than the events or even the highlights of that life; there has to be similarities in the readers’ lives in order to touch them and keep them reading.
This is where each writer finds their theme -that distinct, but unifying idea of the writing, because universal themes transcend gender, age, and race.
“It isn’t enough to have had an interesting or hilarious or tragic life. Art isn’t anecdote. It’s the consciousness we bring to bear on our lives…
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This strategy works especially well for writing memoir also.
About two and a half years ago I went to a writer’s workshop taught by Kelly Sue DeConnick. I talk about that workshop a lot, because it pretty much changed my life. I had been writing for as long as I could remember, but that workshop was the first time I really started to see how stories are made. She also said she often starts with characters, which leads to plot, which leads to theme.
Not everyone writes this way of course. In both novels and comics, there are great writers out there that start with plot, or theme, and work at it from another angle.
Do what works for you. If you are not sure what that is, play with with different ways of approaching a story.
This is what works for me, most of the time:
I start with character, sometimes I have a plot or backstory…
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In my ongoing series, Writing a Memoir like a Novel, I share what I know about writing fiction as it applies to memoir. I hadn’t tried my hand at a memoir until I took on the project that became This New Mountain, but I have written short stories, novellas and novels. You might understand, then, why my approach to writing AJ Jackson’s true story (of a feisty private detective and grandmother) included the elements that make up a work of fiction.
If you’d like your memoir to have the depth and flow of a novel, try adding fictional elements — and check out my posts about crafting characters, setting, dialogue, a compelling opening, point of view, and story arc. Here are the summaries of the six articles in the series so far:
Apply fiction techniques to your “built-in” characters to bring your story, and the real-life people who inhabit it, to life. Physical description doesn’t tell us who a…
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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…
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