Posted by Kathleen Pooler/@kathypooler
“It’s no wonder truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” –Mark Twain (meet Mark Twain through Sharon Lippincott’s post)
In the three years I have been working on my memoir, the phrase that stands out for me the most is-
If you’re going to write a memoir it needs to read like a novel.
So I set out to learn exactly what that meant.
I can journal my heart out, spew out engaging vignettes about various times in my life and write piles of stories that move you to tears, make you laugh till you cry or inspire you to be hopeful.
But-and it’s what comes after the but that counts-if I don’t have:
*a narrative arc with a beginning, middle and end,
* authentic characters that you cannot only believe in but see,
* scenic details and dialogue that transport you into the story,
*a plot that keeps you turning the pages,
*and an identifiable theme that ties it all together
than I don’t have a memoir.
I have an amorphous pile of stories, random ramblings about this or that.
Until I apply fiction techniques to this pile, it will remain shapeless and directionless.
Yes, I know, I can submit stand-alone pieces to magazines or journals- certainly a viable option.
But, I want to shape my stories into a memoir. And quite frankly, if a memoir is worth writing, it’s worth writing well.
So I will paraphrase a few fiction writing tips I’ve learned along the way with links to valuable posts and fiction writing blogs that I hope will help you as much as they have helped me (by no means an all-inclusive list) :
* Your story needs a beginning, middle and end (narrative arc),
* Use action to pull your reader into the story (opening hook).
* Make it clear what’s at stake and what the obstacles are.
* Keep your reader turning the pages with a plot that contains conflict, action and suspense.
* Develop storylines ( finding themes).
* Craft scenes that move the story forward.
* Bring the reader into the scene by using the five senses.
*Write convincing dialogue in everyday language. Make it real.
When I read a memoir, I find myself looking at how the author uses these fiction techniques to hook me into turning the pages. For example, I recently finished Libbye Morris‘ Root Little Pig or Die: My Journey Into and Out of An Abusive Relationship.” Here is my book review on Goodreads.
Here’s a scene where Libbye shows the reader through scenic detail, convincing dialogue that illuminates the plot and moves the story forward and an authentic child’s point of view, the childhood experiences that will shape her future relationships (theme).
Eight-year old Libbye is returning home from Thanksgiving dinner with her mother and four siblings. Her father is disabled with Multiple Sclerosis and wheelchair bound at home. Her paternal grandfather has molested her and she suspects her older sister, Gwen has been molested in previous visits:
“On the ride home, past the dead-animal pit and onto Highway 60-84, I sat silently in the back seat with Margo. Gwen sat up front with Mama. It was late, and I was glad there would be no school the next day. I pressed my body against the seat and wrapped my arms tightly around my chest, fighting back the tears. The thought of Granddad’s hands under my purple double-knit pantsuit and his breath on my neck nauseated me. His breathless words, “Oh I like you” somersaulted through my mind,and I couldn’t make them stop. I thought I was going to throw up but knew better than to create another mess for Mama to clean up.
“We’re not going there for Christmas, are we?” I managed to ask.
“I don’t know,” Mama replied. “Why?”
“I don’t want to go there anymore.”
Here are a few writing blogs I follow that focus on fiction techniques:
Storyfix with Larry Brooks
The Write Practice with Joe Bunting
Write to Done with Mary Jaksch
Wordplay with KM Weiland
James Scott Bell‘s website
The Writing Place with Carol Benedict
The Creative Penn with Joanna Penn
NailYourNovel with Roz Morris
How about you? What hooks you into a story ( fiction or nonfiction) and what keeps you turning the pages? Do you think a memoir needs to use fiction techniques to be compelling?
Please leave your comments below~
Drum Roll Please~
ANNOUNCEMENT: Congratulations to Debbie Pierce of Musings by an ND Domer’s Mom! Your name was selected in a random drawing (witnessed by my two Goldens, Rosie and Max) for Karen Fisher-Alaniz’s memoir, Breaking the Code: A Father’s Secret, a Daughter’s Journey and the Question That Changed Everything.
Next Week: A Blog Tour with Memoirist Linda Hoye. She will discuss her platform for her memoir, Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude.
The voting for your favorite “My Gusty Story” on Sonia Marsh’s blog is open through June 13th. Hope you’ll stop by and consider voting for my story “Choices and Chances.” Here’s the link: http://soniamarsh.com/2012/05/vote-for-your-favorite-may-my-gutsy-story.html