A Relatable Experience – Many of us go through similar experiences and events; however, if you feel yours is not the run of the mill experience, that shouldn’t stop you from writing it. The emotions you describe can be the connection between the author and the audience.
Drama. Drama. Drama – Keep the experience authentic, but many of us are going to choose a more dramatic event in our lives to share. Use the elements of fiction in your writing to keep the tension building.
Story Arc – Whether it’s a longer memoir or a single experience, the story must have a beginning, middle, and end. A memoir must have a structure which keeps the audience engaged and an ending that offers some sort of resolution.
Character Arc – One of the most important elements: We’re not just sharing an experience, we have learned from or taken something away from this event. Part of the memoir must show that the author has grown in some way from the experience.
In my last short memoir, Days of Remembrance, published by Memory House Magazine, the narrator attends a funeral. A relatable experience – everyone does, at some point, deals with death. It doesn’t start with the death, but the arrival to the service which isn’t quite the inciting incident, but it happens right after the arrival. The tension within the family serves as the drama as well as the rising action; the memoir features remembrances within the memory, a climax, and a resolution. The character has a realization and, in the end, has grown from the experience. These are the basic elements of story – fiction or memoir.
Psychologists believe that memory is fallible. We don’t really remember everything correctly. Every time we take out a memory, we add to it, subtract from it, try to reason with it – which, essentially, changes the memory.
People are highly suggestible. Their memories can suffer from suggestions from others, from pop culture, from their own emotional instability.
We all have those stories when we’re wrapped around the holiday table reminiscing and someone misremembers something – or remembers it differently than others. They swear they are right and the other is wrong.
Remember that scene in Scrooged with Bill Murry when he’s in the taxi and he’s recalling a memory: “I was running down a hill, and there was this beautiful girl in pigtails.” The taxi driver grumbles – “That was Little House on the Prairie!”
I used to know someone like that. Her misremembering took on a life of its own. It’s a wonder she’s not the fiction writer.
I find memoir exciting. Not because of the fictional aspects of the things we fill in. I completely accept that memory, and thereby memoir, is corrupt, but the exploration is enlightening. In memoir, we discover who we are. In my search for my sacred parts, in the healing of my broken parts, I strive for authenticity.
“Days of Remembrance” is an effort for me to come to terms with my brother’s passing. I didn’t get to say goodbye, so this is my goodbye to him. I think he’d appreciate it in the same way he appreciated when others reached out of their comfort zone, as he was trying to do in his last year or so of life.
“Days of Remembrance” was published in MemoryHouse Press. A lovely little journal of which I am proud to be included.
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