Effective Memoirs How to expand your idea/story so that it fits the criteria of a memoir
The Lead… The lead brings readers right into the action of the story rather than being an introductory paragraph of facts. Example: I looked over at my clock. It said four o’clock in the morning. I waited for my mother to come get me. Dad was going to work and it was time for breakfast. I thought about what I was going to eat… Does this make you, as a reader, want to read the rest of this story?
This lead brings the reader right into the action of the story 2nd example: “Squeeaak!” I bolted upright, eyes scrambling to focus in the dim early morning light. My heart was thudding, and I slowly let out a deep breath, willing myself to calm down. Suddenly I remembered what day it was…
Is there enoughpersonality showing the writer’s thoughts, feelings, and observations? Example: Josh stood tall on the thin and delicate branches. SNAP! The branch had broken directly under my brother’s feet. He tumbled to the ground. Dad raced to his side and nervously asked if he was ok. I looked at my brother. My eyes locked on his leg. I pointed my shaking finger directly at the hole in my brother’s leg. A root had gone into the side of his knee. There are certainly places where this writer could show instead of tell!
Here there ISa lot of personality showing the writer’s thoughts, feelings, and observations. Example: I could not bear to look as Josh balanced precariously on the thin branch above my head. SNAP! I watched in horror as my brother’s body raced toward the ground, hitting it with a sickening crunch. I couldn’t breathe. Frozen in fear I watched my father run to his side. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. I lifted my arm as in a stupor and pointed my shaking finger to where blood was seeping from a wound in my brother’s leg. I felt faint as I realized that a branch had been driven into the side of his knee.
The pace needs to be slowed down to allow readers to make a movie in their minds Example: The doctor handed me my son and held him close. Then the nurse took him and put him in the crib. I watched them wheel the crib down the hall, with my baby boy inside. I had to go pack for the long trip to be with him. When I was ready I got in the car and headed to the airport. After the short flight, I took a taxi to the hospital and waited for him to come out of surgery. There is too much happening here in one short paragraph.
Now, the pace is slowed down: readers can make a movie in their minds Example: I looked into the deep brown eyes of my new baby boy. I could feel his weight and warmth; he was light in my arms. I could not believe they had to take him away from me. When the nurse reached out for him I hesitated. “I’m not ready,” I managed to whisper. I could see the sympathy in her eyes. “The helicopter is waiting. We’ve got to go.” She took my son and placed him back in the crib. My arms felt empty as I watched them roll his bed out the EXIT door. I knew I should be packing so I could get to the IWK and see him again. But I was immobile, hot tears splashing onto the cold, hard hospital floor.
the rule of So what? Good writing in every genre answers the question SO WHAT? Good writing has a purpose, a point, a reason it was written. The good writer looks for and finds the meanings, the significances, the implications in the subject he or she has chosen. Sometimes the SO WHAT? is subtle and implicit. Sometimes it's explicitly stated. But always a good reader finds something to think about because a good writer found something to think about.
the rule of So what? . Robert Frost wrote, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." If you don't find the deep meanings in your life or your characters' lives, your readers won't find meanings in their own. A good writer often discovers the SO WHAT? through the thinking of the writing process.
There must be a Sowhat?: a meaning or significance that was discovered by the memoirist during the act of writing the memoir Example: I was there to greet my son as he came out of surgery. He was in an incubator hooked up to 5 needles and a feeding tube. It was so scary. I wasn’t even allowed to hold him. I could reach in and touch his tiny hands and feet. I ached to hold him in my arms and rock him to sleep. What might the significance or meaning have been for this writer?
Here it is easier to determine the So what?: the meaning or significance that was discovered by the memoirist during the act of writing the memoir I looked at my helpless infant son in the incubator. He was hooked up to needles and a feeding tube and I was not able to hold him. My arms ached at the loss. This was not what I had planned for my second-born. I felt torn with guilt at leaving my oldest child behind in New Brunswick. He had been expecting to gain a baby brother and instead he was without both his parents. It wasn’t fair! Suddenly lights were blinking and monitors beeping. White-coated nurses went running to the crib beside my son. I watched them work on an infant that fit into the palm of their hand. In that moment of panic, I looked at my sturdy, 9 lb. baby boy and realized how fortunate I was. I had been feeling sorry for myself when I should be feeling thankful. My son would have a full recovery. I just had to get through the next few months.
Read your draft and ask yourself: SO WHAT? At the very end of the draft of your memoir, in contrasting colour, I want you to write… SO WHAT = (And, this is where in one sentence you need to write what you think the is meaning in your memory.)