An interesting approach to write a memoir. Your personal thoughts are welcome.

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creativitytogo

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Hello friends,

There are many wonderful ways to write a memoir, and I am aware of important elements such as: main theme, narrative arc, character arc, plot, scene etc.

I will be happy and thankful for your thoughts about the following approach.
Please be gentle, as I really ask for the sake of positive and insightful discussion-

Let's assume that I have no idea, initially, for the memoir's theme/story.
So, I collect many stories, snippets and vignettes, using prompts of many kinds.

Now, I begin with a random story/snippet/vignette, then, continue to another random story, while linking them in a reasonable and justified way, like- "that's reminds me when a similar incident..."
All is written in a conversational manner, like a friend who just arrived, and began describing a stream of consciousness monologue/conversation.

Obviously, such approach may lead to a chaotic plot, even mixing different themes, and sometimes even mentioning unrelated, irrelevant stories, yet, there is a chain of stories where one leads to the other, just as someone may talk in a casual conversation.
The results is a string of the stories, snippets and vignettes, each linked to the next "reasonably"

Of course, in the editing stage, I may move and replace stories, but for the sake of the conversation only-

Does such a string of stories, linked to each other reasonably, may be a useable approach to writing a memoir?

Of course, that for publishing goals, there should be some kind of a brief description of the entire story, that will allow a more "sellable" pitch, yet, what interests me is the approach itself, and your thoughts and experience concerning it-

Are you familiar with such memoirs, that contain random stories, each story is linked to the next, with a "justified" link between them?

Do you think that this method makes a good narrative, nevertheless a specific theme is not provided/used?

And as I always like to ask in my posts, because learning the theory also fascinates me-
Are you familiar with any instructional writing guides that mention that approach.

Any other thoughts are thankfully welcome.

Thanks ☺️
 
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Voodoo Chicken

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AS ALWAYS, THIS IS MY UNQUALIFIED OPINION. I AM NOT A REAL AUTHOR. I ONLY PLAY ONE ON THE INTERNET. READ THIS AT THE RISK OF SLOWLY SHAKING YOUR HEAD FROM SIDE TO SIDE WHILE LAUGHING AT MY IGNORANCE.

I had no plan when I started my memoir. That was five years ago. Only recently have I reached a point where I feel like I have a decent final draft.

I did exactly what you describe. I sat down and had a conversation with myself about memorable past events. These vignettes were only loosely connected and after six months, I had 65,000 words. The general consensus was, each vignette was engaging but as a complete story it sucked. That was because a series of vignettes do not make a story. If you want to write a collection of short stories, narrative isn't necessarily important. But if you are writing something you expect a large audience to read cover to cover and you are not an established author, you might be best served refining some sort of consistent narrative arc that holds your memoir together.

Of course, your mileage may vary but if I started with a plan and solid narrative foundation, I could have hammered out a half-way decent manuscript in one year instead of five.

Having said that, I'm glad I "pantsed" it. Not having a narrative structure to inform your writing gives you the freedom to write about anything you feel passionate about (but keep in mind, writing without direction will cause you to spin your wheels considerably). After a while, I saw connections and narrative threads I never would have imagined had I sat and attempted to plan this thing out before hand. I like to think my current draft was informed by the muses in this way and a planned manuscript would only be a hollow shell of what I have now.

This is art though. It's different for everybody. Planning saves time and helps avoid major hurdles down the road, but pantsing opens you up to creative ideas you might not have discovered otherwise. This approach is especially difficult when it comes to memoir though. Fiction authors can always make something up to fit a desired narrative arc, but memoir authors don't have this luxury.

I think narrative structure is imperative and that was the main reason this process took so long in my case. It was like putting together a massive puzzle while wearing a blindfold only to find that some pieces didn't fit and had to be thrown away.

The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll, Post Office by Charles Bukowski and Junky by William Burroughs are examples of memoirs that lack narrative structure (IMO). I enjoyed these books because I enjoy those authors, but the lack of structure frustrated me as a reader and caused very noticeable pacing issues.

I'm a firm believer in writing memoir as a Hero/Heroine's Journey in three acts. But how you get there is up to you.

Hope this helps.
 

PiaSophia

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Hi there!

I don't have a guide for you, neither do I know where you could find such a guide. But I do have questions for you.

You say you're writing a memoir, but do I understand correctly that the memoir consists of all different, little stories that seemingly are not related but somehow are connected either way? If so, is there a bigger story to it?
I mean, as a reader I wouldn't be interested in a person's life if it only were to exist of little stories that are random and not related to each other. But if the memoir is set around a certain event (let's say the MC has experienced a trauma) and all the little stories somehow make sense to that event, then it would be interesting to read. I think it would be refreshing, even, and would definitely trigger me to pick it up!

You say the stories aren't linked by a certain theme. Can you tell me more about how they are related, then? Again, I feel like this would work it the stories lead up to the one specific event (e.g. the trauma).
You can only know if it works by trying! :)
 

Elenitsa

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Have you thought of writing it as a short stories collection instead? This is what I want to do with my memories, which are still growing up inside me. They will be some short stories, connected in between them first geographically in a group (as it is the history of the various family branches), then... by the fact that they all concur to become a family.
 

creativitytogo

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Wonderful thoughts!

Thank you!

I am going to experiment with different approaches and see the results.

I will also try some little experiments, where I will use a theme but with no overreaching narrative arc (like a stories' collection), as well as trying to link small memoirs into a single piece, etc.

Interesting indeed.

Thanks!
 

Lone Wolf

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As a reader I expect a memoir to read like a novel with a main story building up to a big conflict and resolution. I also expect all the qualities of a proper novel - good characterization, scene setting, stimulating dialogue and action (etc). Sounds like you have a bunch of short stories. I would still expect each story to have all these elements, just in miniature.
I think you should ask yourself, what is your actual purpose in writing a memoir?
 

Blue Skies

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I've completed a bio called Heartglass. Pretty much a major finished piece. I found that separating every few months into a chapter helped segment it up. It consists of 50 chapters so it's pretty big. You could consider doing something similar. Some extra personal info, if anyone's interested:

So between 2003 to 2010 I suffered sever writer's block and comfort-wrote an autobiograhical diary detailing supernatural visions, my love life and aforementioned writer's block. It's at approximately 626.000 words and finished, but I can't publish it anytime soon for two reasons:

(1) I currently don't have access to it for reasons I can't detail.
(2) As I'm sure many people here are aware, publishing an autobiography as a first piece is kinda stupid since it wouldn't be picked up as an interesting piece, so I'm doing a fantasy piece called The Four Wings first.

Hope this helps.
 

MaeZe

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My unqualified opinion because I'm writing YA sci-fi, but I've always believed my life is worth a memoir:

Why is your life something others would be interested in? That is your theme. It need not be a single theme. Different parts of your life might involve different themes.

For me it starts in low self-esteem and rather lonely early childhood, next were my years in the late 60s and 70s full of drugs, protests, and a new world view. I was no longer lonely, had lots of boyfriends, experienced a devastating loss when my first long-term boyfriend was killed in a car crash, recovered from drugs, then went off on my college adventure. From there is was an exciting life with years of world travel ending up settling where I live now. I raised a beautiful son on my own and we are very close. I've come full circle and don't have any close friends except my son. But I have high self-esteem and I'm not really lonely. I'm working on retiring one career and beginning a new one as a writer.

Hows that for a theme?

The next volume could go anywhere in this era of one nightmare after another.

That's where I suggest you start if you haven't written that outline yet.

From there, I'm a fan of writing chapters and putting them together later. None of my life chapters have any connecting ties per se. But there is an overall theme, I think. :tongue


Edited to add, that's only one kind of theme. There's a woman in our critique group writing about her experience raising two autistic children and one group member not with us at the moment was writing a memoir of life with a schizophrenic brother.
 
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Chris P

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The best (non-celebrity) memoirs I've read follow a theme, as MaeZe says, and follow that theme along a story arch. Memoirs written by former local athletes coming to terms with plain-Janeness after leaving high school, people becoming adults after a sheltered or dangerous childhood, men rebuilding after divorce, and addiction recovery memoirs which is almost a genre unto itself.

In each case, the point is not an all-encompassing synopsis of the author's entire life, but their progression through (i.e., their story arch) a particular aspect of it from where they start to where they end. Keeping in mind that "all symphonies remain unfinished," and both the author and reader recognizing the author will continue to grow. At the end of Tara Westover's wonderful memoir Educated, I really hope she writes a followup chapter or two in twenty or thirty years time. She made me care not only about what she experienced, but her internal growth not only up to The End, but beyond.
 

CathleenT

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I've decided on a short story approach, and I'm just chipping away at it. I blog my flash memoirs, which all have a complete arc to themselves. For example--the plane crash I walked away from, the time I went scuba diving with a Mako shark, or my experience during the great American eclipse a couple of years ago. They all have a typical three-act structure with rising tension and try-fail cycles, etc.

The only place they're gathered together is my blog. I don't know how many of you blog, but they're the kind of tales you'd tell at a party. For me, that's a lot easier than finding an overall arc because real life is poorly organized.

But I like short story collections. I adored Herriott's work, which was in this format.

And, y'know, you always have to feed the blog. And people seem to like them, so they're good twice.

If I ever do collect them into a book, that will probably be the only time I ever blog one, but it seems to work for this.
 

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