Memoir Anyone?

Another View of the Detroit Skyline

One of the first instincts of most authors is to write about what they’ve experienced. That works well, most of the time.

However, it’s my guess many readers have little desire right now to read fiction that brings to mind the disturbing reports about the pandemic and national demonstrations.

They’re looking instead for an escape.

As I mentioned before, I worked for many years in downtown Detroit’s Renaissance Center (seen above). I don’t normally think about that much, but it’s come to mind often lately since, like many of you, I’ve been cooped up and struggling with all the distractions.

However, I’ve never been one to imagine there’s too much on my plate. So, even though I already have those three troublesome fiction stories in the works, I’m now also contemplating a memoir.

It’s a different genre for me, but not one I’m totally unfamiliar with.

What is a Memoir?
A memoir is essentially an essay. While an essayist must color within the lines of fact, they must also be able to utilize many of the same components of a good fiction author.

Like show, don’t tell.

It’s still the author’s job to spin events into a compelling narrative, and make them shine for public consumption. In other words, put them together as something greater than the sum of their parts.

For those new to the form, I suggest you forget every bland essay you ever had to write, and I officially give you permission to banish your high school English teacher from your mind.

As an author, whether you write fiction or memoir, you are not there to inform or persuade. You are there to tell a story. Fiction is nothing without a strong protagonist. Neither is memoir…but guess who the protagonist is in a memoir?

It’s you.

The memoir is your story. It happened to you. You are the only one who can write it, and your voice needs to be sure, strong, dynamic and believable. A writer with a confident voice knows why they’re telling the story, and they know exactly where it’s going.

Their story says to the reader, from the very first line, hop in, we’re going for a ride, and I promise it’ll be worth your while.

But you’d better keep that promise, because I’ll let you in on a secret. Even if you have a perfect marriage, perfect kids, a great stock portfolio and can provide photographic proof you line-up your books in alphabetical order, no one wants to read 50,000 words about it!

The best stories always involve some sort of struggle. A happy ending only feels good because of the conflict that came before it. Otherwise, it’s just an ending.

Here’s another secret. The most startling, bright and joyful memories you have contain a lot of hidden conflict. Don’t believe it? Then you’d better look closer at your own happy memories to understand what you, or perhaps the people around you, endured to get there.

Maintain the Pace
When you do decide to write that memoir, keep your narrative taut. Maintain a steady release of information to the reader. Don’t bombard them with your whole life story in the first three paragraphs. By the same token, don’t leave out essential information until the very end.

Each sentence must give the reader a reason to keep going.

A finely-tuned memoir, like good fiction, will embed the reader deeply into the author’s world. It should be so deep they can’t hear anything outside of it.

In some ways, holding that tension is easier in memoir, because you already know which parts made your own heart beat a little faster. Your very worst nightmare should be a reader who walks away from your work with nothing more than they started.

There are many ways you can reach an audience. The only way to fail is to forget they’re there in the first place.

Honesty Counts
In a memoir, there are always real people involved. This can often make your efforts tricky, because you may not want to upset those people (family, friends and others) you’ve written into your story.

But it’s important you tell the truth…even if it makes your journey as an author more difficult.

One more note on honesty: Memoirs explore the concept of truth as seen through your eyes, but don’t write in a snarky manner, or with a bitter tone. The motivation for writing a memoir shouldn’t be to whine, exact revenge, or seek forgiveness. It should simply be to share your experience.

All while taking your readers on a journey they won’t forget.

This is essential to your success, because you must invite your reader far enough into your perspective they can draw their own conclusions. They need to experience your story, almost as if it was their own.

While your memoir is a true story, employing the same tried-and-true elements found in fiction will make it far more powerful.

Take readers on an emotional journey that motivates them to read the next chapter, and wonder about you after finishing the last page…then (best of all) makes them want to tell their friends 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. The experiences you had carry more weight when you show how they affected the weeks, months and years after them. How did they change your approach to life?

Did the experience 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.

If you do it well, you will captivate your audience and leave them begging for more. But, more importantly, you’ll share your own authentic story with the world.

Now, get out there and write.

Stay safe.

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Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

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You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show, or see my three local television interviews. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

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Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

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6 Responses to “Memoir Anyone?”

  1. T. W. Dittmer Says:

    Well done, Ron.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bob Wonnacott Says:

    Ron,
    This is very timely advice, now that I am in my second chapter of my memoir. I still have the darnedest time of “showing – not telling”. There is a real art in doing this, because I take a lot of time to rewrite a telling event to a showing event. Hopefully, it becomes easier as I continue to write more dialogue. As always, thanks for the valuable information!

    Liked by 1 person

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