The Art Of The Memoir: A Series Of Moments Can Lead To Your Big Message

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2001
memoir

Everything in your book works to deliver your message — the main point of your life story that readers will remember long after they’ve finished reading. Just look at the titles of a selection of memoirs to see how important this is.

Many memoirs start when maybe-authors get these kinds of reactions to telling their stories in an informal context:

“People say they love hearing my stories.”
“People say I led such an interesting life.”
“People say they can’t believe the number of crazy things I’ve gotten up to.”
“People say I should write a memoir to record all I’ve been through.”
“People say my story inspires others.”

If you are one of these types of magnetic people, you might be thinking about writing your memoir. How do you do so as easily and quickly as possible?

First off, you need to figure out how all your stories relate to one another to build to your special message — which will often be the title of your memoir.

Moments

Likely your best stories focus on key moments. They should be emotional, revelatory, transformative moments that changed your life. Pull them together into a library. This is your base content. How do they express your message?

Can you find a voice with which to express them on the page, writing small passages or scenes that go to the heart of your story in the way you want to see it conveyed?

Getting your stories into prose form can be an eye-opener. It’s often not as easy as telling a story at a party. You can’t see the reader’s eyes to gauge their reactions and adapt your words to match their interests.

In prose, you have no recourse to body language, and non-verbal signals make up the bulk of in-person human communication. To suddenly write your tales is akin to proverbially tying your hands behind your back in terms of how you engage with your audience. If you can translate your greatness as a storyteller into words on the page, you are in line to hit a home run.

Connections

The harder part of a book-sized project is “creating the whole,” one composite impression made up of the diversity of your experiences. Your moments need to dovetail into each other and build an arc of change that gives a reader an entrance and an exit to your story.

Perhaps you put your moments in chronological order and now you can see how events and decisions earlier in the chain inform later ones. Do some moments lead to others? Which moments are predictable once they follow a previous moment and which are utter surprises that might make key plot points?

Message

Everything in your book works to deliver your message. Your message is the main point of your life story that readers will remember long after they’ve finished your book. It’s what you’ll be remembered for, and it’s often an inspirational lesson, great advice, or a warning. Just look at the titles of a selection of memoirs to see how important this is.

Telling one story, or a few, at a party, can be the start of a great book. Now you have to take a bird’s eye view at your material. Building a gripping overview takes deep retrospection and a lot of thinking. Thinking hard about the content and the connections produces the best material. A key part of a great memoir is synthesizing experiences to show your interpretations of why things happened and what it meant to you and others.

It’s one thing to report what happened and another to find the higher meaning of life-events and lay them out in a compelling narrative. In the end, all this material needs to build towards your exit of the story, the climax and resolution, the truths learned and the paths taken.

When content and connections don’t come together

Novice memoirs often read like a bunch of disjointed vignettes. Often, they have been written independently and may overlap in content. Such overlaps lead to unwanted repetitions and need to be integrated. Chaining vignettes together is a great start, but can result in an unsatisfying story that would be greatly enhanced by connections that make a readable whole.

Diagnosing these weaknesses and shoring them up is about examining content and connections and fully developing the meaning and presentation of the story as required.

Summary

Even if it’s real-life, you need to find the story, and it needs to have a great ending. This is why readers read books in the first place.

You use your message to begin your memoir and select your best moments. Pull more content from the connections between moments to draw out the higher truths from your personal experiences so others can relate and see the truths in their own experiences.

It’s your message that acts like the North Star to help you optimize and spotlight what matters from your first to last draft.

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Related Posts
Who Am I To Write a Memoir?
Writing Great Dialogue: Create Power Moments Rich In Subtext
Tightening Your Story’s Cause And Effect Chain With “And So”
The Micro-Memoir: Start Your Memoir With A Moment
Four things to decide before you write your memoir

Dawn Field

About Dawn Field

Dawn Field has written 86 posts in this blog.

Dawn Field is a book lover and scientist interested in what makes great writing. She is the founder of Unity in Writing, LLC where she writes about writing, language and science and loves giving feedback and brainstorming with authors as a developmental editor. Her first book, Biocode, was published in 2015 by Oxford University Press. Contact her at unityinwriting@gmail.com.

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