Does your memoir flow?

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Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

gettingby

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My memoir is about half done, maybe more. What I have been doing is really focussing on each chapter. Even when I write the very next chapter in order, I still seem to take big leaps. I'm wondering if I need to include more downtime in the memoir. I'm starting to worry about how it will flow as a complete work. But, of course, I don't want it to be boring. If something interesting happen, can I follow that up in the next chapter with something like "six months later..." How hard to do try to make your memoir a cohesive story? How accepting as reader are you of jumps in the timeline? If nothing really happened for six months or so, do I have to say anything about that time at all? I don't want to end up with a collection of personal essays. I want this to be a memoir.
 

AHunter3

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• I don't see anything wrong with an elision of several hours, weeks, months, or even years. Not in and of itself. But...

• If it creates a continuity gap (prevous characters are no longer around, the school you were attending is now in the past, the legal charges you were so worried about have long since been dismissed, etc) you need to put SOME kind of transition in. Can be anything from a radio announcement that happens to mention the date to a boldface PHILADELPHIA — JUNE OF 2013 centered on page sort of thing, whether you call it a new Chapter or Section or don't designate it as such.

• Your memoir is presumably about something. Something other than "This has been my life". As such, then, it needs to read like any other entertaining story that is about that something. The skips should enable that story-telling process, not interrupt it.


In my own memoir, everything is mostly consecutive chronological flow, but I kick the whole works off with a prologue about an event in my early adulthood, then skip back to childhood. The story progresses and eventually gets to that same point and continues on past it.

Then there's a postlogue that takes place decades after the last paragraph of the previous chapter. I clue the reader in by having my main character (i.e., me) close a browser window and close the laptop lid before heading off to meet some people.
 

nadja1972

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I think jumps in the timeline are fine (and necessary) as long as you don't leave the reader confused. That may be something you can't see clearly, though, until your draft is finished and you set it aside for a while and then revisit it with an eye towards fixing any jarring leaps. Beta readers should be able to help with that, too.

Since a memoir needs to be "about" something, focusing on that theme is one way to smooth transitions and make the work feel cohesive. You may need to skip over events, even interesting events, if they don't fit the overall intention of the book. But yes, it's definitely a good idea leave out any boring parts.
 

Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Leaps in time and space between chapters are fine if the scenes are linked by theme or characters and make complete sense. For instance, if you have a chapter where the characters are discussing going to college, it'd be natural to have the next chapter with them in college. But if it's a huge leap, then put in some connective tissue. I'll warn you that opening each chapter with "Six months later," or similar isn't real interesting. Better to write a little paragraph or a sentence or two describing events you're otherwise leaving out. (example: "I spent the next six months writing meeting minutes.")

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

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