We all have a story to tell, but ah–how to tell it, that’s what keeps us at our desk, scribbling in our notebooks, looking for the scenes and moments that we carry in our hearts. Our job as memoirists is to translate what we know and remember to the page, to put images and wispy memories into language and story. Memoirists sometimes feel they have a story that ought to be easy to tell. After all, we know what happened in our lives and why we want to write about it. But this is where memoir writers struggle. A well-written story is more than “what happened.” And a reader of memoir looks for much more than “what happened to you.” The reader wants to be transported into your world, and needs to see how your story helps them, or inspires them in some way. There needs to be a universal connection.
Elements of a Story
There is a plot in memoir—the “what happened when” part; there’s character development, which means understanding the arc of the ways that each major character—including yourself as a protagonist—changes and grows during the story. The craft of writing a story means stepping back from our subjective relationship with ourselves and our memories and offering images and feelings that bring the reader into the world we portray through story. To do this we need to write in scenes.
In a scene you have: action, characters, place, time, a significant moment, vivid descriptions and sensual details. These sensual details are the key to bringing your reader into your world. Taste, vivid colors and description, smell, sound—all these are specifics that tune the reader’s brain into your own brain’s wavelength and make it hard to stop reading. They fall into the world of the story—which is what you want. There are some very interesting studies that show how the brain of the reader merges with the story being told because of these sensual details.
The other thing important in your scene is that you, the protagonist, have a desire, a need, something that’s important to you that drives through the story. The reader identifies with you and your quest, your journey through the memoir and through your eyes, they learn something new. This is why we read—out of curiosity, out of the need to have a new experience and learn something about the world we didn’t know before. I think this is why memoir is so popular now—our need to connect with the experience and life wisdom of others. Our need to feel connected to a larger community.
This week at the NAMW Telesummit on November 11, we’re excited to have a session with our story guru, Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story and her new book Story Genius. Lisa makes learning story essentials so easy that we wonder why we haven’t been using these tools all along. She’s going to talk about story making in terms of the brain and how we process information. Understanding this will help make you a better writer, and give you new skills that can help your book to become a success. A good story is what agents and editors are looking for. I hope you join us for this informative and inspiring Telesummit. Read more about all the presenters here.
Writing in November!
What a great month for writers! We writers are being invited from all kinds of sites, programs, blogs, and presentations to attend to our writing this month! Get this: it’s NaNoWriMo–the National Novel Writing Month challenge. Write 50,000 words of a novel in one month and get a certificate. You are supposed to write a novel, but you can use this month to challenge yourself to write your memoir. It’s a way to get that “shitty first draft” out and on the page for future editing and revision. That is the hardest part–getting out the initial “download” of the stories and memories you have in your head.
All month long it’s National Lifewriting Month, and my long term colleague and friend Denis LeDoux, owner of Soleil Lifestory Network, is offering some terrific classes and workshops this month. Check out the details at the bottom of the post.
And, at the National Association of Memoir Writers, we kick off the month with our FREE premier event the NAMW Telesummit where we invite experts to speak about story writing, publishing, blogging, and social media. NAMW is my baby, so I’m so excited to spend 6 hours on the phone talking with people I respect, and LOVE talking to.
I’ll be sharing time with Mike O’Mary, owner of Dream of Things, a small publisher of memoir, who will talk about how to present your work to a small publisher.
Lisa Cron, author of Wired on Story, will discuss the brain science behind story writing, and what our brains crave through story.
Nina Amir, who has her own amazing blog month all November: Write Nonfiction in November–a whole month of blog posts and articles about writing nonfiction–is going to speak about How to Blog your Book to help it sell.
Frances Caballo, author of the new book Social Media Just for Writers is going to educate us on social media–and make it simple and easy to use for us right brain writers who tend to not want to learn about social media. But as a reformed cynic, I can say I’ve learned how to make it easy and fun–so you can too!
Our final presenters will be Kamy Wikoff and Brooke Warner, who created SheWritesPress, a hybrid press that answers the needs of current writers, especially memoirists in this challenging and changing world of publishing.
To sign up for the free all day event–ask your questions live on the line, or get the free audio downloads afterwards–sign up here.
Resources from Denis LeDoux:
The Soleil Lifestory Network has prepared tele-classes, audios, and handouts–all free for the month of November–to support you in your writing.
Create Characters That “Live” on the Page! In this tele-class, you will learn many simple techniques to enhance the verisimilitude of your memoir characters. Monday, November 5, 2012, 8-9 PM/ET.
– Tell the Truth. In this tele-class, you will learn how to avoid sins of omission and commission and how to appreciate the truth–the whole truth. The tele-class will also discuss the pain that can often company telling the truth. Monday, November 19, 2012, 8-9 PM/ET
– Price it Right. This tele-class geared to help Memoir Professionals to assess their product and service pricing and to bring it in line with both their needs and that of the public. Monday, November 26, 2012, 8-9 PM/ET
Please join me at the National Association of Memoir Writers for a great day, and check out all the other events going on this month. And be sure to write, write, write!!