Happy: A Memoir
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Leave your readers with their mouths open in awe, or laughing hysterically, or crying tears of sympathy and sadness — or all three. Take them on an emotional journey that motivates them to read the next chapter, wonder about you well after they finish the last page, and tell their friends and colleagues about your book. The best way to evoke these feelings in your readers is to connect your emotions, as the protagonist, with pivotal events happening throughout your narrative arc. Most of us are familiar with the narrative arc. Your memoir is no different: You need to create enough tension to shape your overall story, as well as each individual chapter, with that narrative arc.
That moment when you realized your husband had an affair? Instead, you might say something like:. He was using our money to woo another lady and build a new life. I curled up in a ball and wept for three hours — I had been demoted to the other woman. Speaking of narrative arc, the best way to accomplish that in a memoir is by showing how you, the main character, grew and changed as a person.
That experience you had carries more weight when you show how it affected not just that point in time, but the weeks, months and even years after. How did it change your approach to life? Did it change how you thought about others or yourself? Did it help you become a better or wiser person in some way? This can be the hardest part of writing a memoir because it requires so much introspection.
We broke these into three categories of memoirs, those that can help us learn about structure, theme and takeaway.
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Each of these are essential elements of the genre. The most straightforward memoirs are those that start at point A and end at point B, moving the reader along in linear time. Countless categories of memoir point to big-picture themes: addiction and recovery; parenting; travel; cooking; coming-of-age; dysfunctional family; religious experience; death and dying; divorce; and more. For instance, a theme might be healing through running. Once you identify your theme, you must always keep sight of it. I liken this to wearing a pair of tinted glasses.
The same should be true with good memoir: introduce the reader to your world, but keep your memoir contained and on point by keeping your principal and sometimes secondary themes front and center. Takeaway can happen at any moment, when the author shares something heartfelt, universal, and true. Understanding takeaway is a long process, and some authors, when they first start thinking about takeaway, make the mistake of being too overt or trying too hard.
These are subtle moments of observation about the world around you, a wrapping up of an experience through a lesson learned or the sharing of the way something impacted you. The idea is to sprinkle these moments into your chapters, without overwhelming or spoon-feeding your reader. Good takeaway is, in fact, mirroring. But is it such a bad thing to live like this for just a little while? Or to learn how to speak a language for no higher purpose than that it pleases your ear to hear it?
Or to nap in a garden, in a patch of sunlight, in the middle of the day, right next to your favorite foundation? And then to do it again the next day? Not all reflective passages have to be questions, but you can see that this technique is effective. We all know what it feels like to be saddled by the burdens of everyday life.
When you follow these guidelines while writing your memoir, you will captivate your audience and leave them begging for more. This post contains affiliate links.
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She writes a monthly column for Publishers Weekly. This six-week online personal essay writing course will guide you through every step of the process, from essay idea to salable piece. Get It Now. Great advice! As the author of two memoirs, these suggestions are spot on. Sometimes better told from the middle. Hi David.
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Yes, that is a great tip as well. Thanks for the suggestion! It seems to work better, as it looked a little bit like a patchwork and would have readers scrambling and back-peddling to check on a date etc. Hi Carla, I work for a personal memoir company who help people record their stories which are then printed into beautiful hardbound books.
We also assist with getting a digital version of your book on amazon. Please do get in touch, we would love to help you finalize it! I thank you for your help and look forward to writing my memoirs — to my first and only autobiography. After reading the six points, I was inspired by the idea of having a memoir, something I was trying to avoid. I do have a finished manuscript which I had written in third person. The editor I sent it to gave me very candid and painful feedback. I am thinking seriously that he had good points and a memoir as opposed to creative non fiction is the only way that would make sense.
I need to know how the professional writer can work with me as I already have a manuscript. Who will be the author of the Book? Thank you. Do you give advice? My memoir is of an unusual friendship that continued over four decades. He was my Bible professor my freshman year. This week someone said I needed to put in tension. As near as I can tell, the tension was all in me. To further my dilemma, I am close to approaching Consequently, time, my time, is of the essence for me.
Thanks for reading this. Marilyn LaRonde Just in case: H. Congrats to you on writing your story. I suggest looking at story structure first. The Story Grid is a great way to delve into structure as well as editing. A suggestion not here on the list: Frame your story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Start with dramatizing the inciting incident of the story, what kicks off the story in a big way, the punch to the gut.
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Complicate the story progressive problems. The challenges get bigger and bigger as the story goes on. Give the story a turning point in which the protagonist you have to make a big decision for which there is no turning back.
Have the protagonist answer the question in action. And then show the consequences of that decision as the resolution of the story. I knew I should go that route.
Now I have to start over again with much excitement! This will be my first memoir. I would love to have any more tips anyone is willing to share. This is something I want to do and feel I need to do. Hi Marilyn, Apologies if this is way off topic and not of interest, but the subject of your memoir made me think of a book I recently heard the co-authors discuss on a podcast. Just thought you might be interested.