Struggling with your memoir?
Struggling with your memoir?
The phrase repeated most to writers is "Show, Don't Tell." However, this advice is terribly misguided. In fact, telling can result in even stronger writing than showing. The trick is to make your writing internal, not external.
Tips for starting out your scenes
Stuck getting started? Watch the video below for a few tips on starting out your scenes.
One of the most important things I try to ingrain in my students is the fact that scenes are your building blocks. Without scenes, you don’t have a memoir.
But what is a scene exactly? Basically, all scenes need to contain the following three elements:
Scenes need to contain an event
Let’s start with number one, which is the most important advice I can give you when it comes to creating a scene: All scenes need to contain an event. In other words, something has to happen. If nothing happens, why are you writing a scene in the first place?
Scenes create plot and plot is created by events. I often think of “events” and “scenes” as being synonymous and sometimes even uses the words interchangeably when talking about memoir writing. Whenever something happens in your book, you need to give us a scene. And any time you give us a scene, something better happen.
Scenes need a sense of time and place
It doesn’t matter whether your scene takes place in April of last year or 1952. It doesn’t matter whether it occurs in a park, a bathroom, or a Turkish prison. But all scenes need a sense of time and place. Why? Because as I explained earlier, all scenes need an event. And an event can’t occur unless you are talking about a particular place and point in time.
Writing something like “Every summer in high school” is not giving us a specific time and thus is not setting up a scene. However, writing, “One Saturday night when I was in high school” is anchoring your scene in time and is setting the groundwork for an event to occur.
We don’t need for you to elaborate on time or place. Your scene just needs time and place as an anchor for the event that you’re about to describe.
Scenes need to put us inside the narrator’s head
Whenever I’m reading a great book or watching a great movie, there are moments when I lose myself so completely in the plot that I actually feel like I am the protagonist. That’s what you want your memoir to do for a reader: make them forget they are reading a book.
The way to help a readers truly experience the events that you lived through is to put us inside your narrator’s head — a process I like to call “channeling your internal monologue.” Instead of just describing what you saw, heard, or smelled, try and describe the thoughts that went through your head at the time. Good prose always sounds like a recounting of a writer’s internal monologue, whether it’s fiction or memoir.
If you’d like more information, check out the video below. Happy writing!
To create compelling characters, forget “Show, don’t tell.” What you want to do instead is “Tell, then show.”
Watch the youtube video above or read the article below. The info is pretty much the same.
When it comes to bringing characters to life on the page, many writers fall back on objective details. They think that their job is to let a reader form their own impression of a character.
However, being objective rarely gives a reader a good sense of what a character is like. Let me explain why with a few examples. The first description I’ve written only includes objective details, what most people would consider to be a great example of showing versus telling:
The man was wearing a black suit with a white shirt and a yellow tie. The first two buttons of his shirt were undone. He had perfectly pressed pants and shiny leather shoes.
What’s the problem? While this description offers lots of details, I honestly don’t get a very good sense of who this person is.
Let me do a quick rewrite of this first description, taking the very same objective details and adding subjective information. In other words, instead of just offering facts and letting the reader draw their own conclusions, I am going to tell the reader what this person is like.
The man was wearing a black suit with a white shirt and a yellow tie. I immediately thought, “mafia,” which was only confirmed when I noticed that the first two buttons of his shirt were undone, what I assumed was a message to the world that he was macho enough to show off a bit of his chest. His pants were perfectly pressed too. This was either a man who had people working for him or who had married a woman with traditional values who believed it fell to her to do these types of chores.
After I added my opinion about this character, didn’t you get a much better sense of what he is like? In fact let me take the very same objective details from my first description and use them to describe an entirely different type of person. Again, this is a man in a suit with shiny shoes, who is wearing a white shirt with the top two buttons undone.
The man looked like he had stepped straight out of the pages of GQ. He was wearing a black suit with a white shirt and a yellow tie. The first two buttons of his shirt were undone which revealed just enough skin to show off a tan, hairless chest. He had perfectly pressed pants and shiny leather shoes as if he had a personal assistant or perhaps a stylist who made sure he was perfectly put together as he headed out of his apartment on East 79th each morning.
What did I just do there? I took the same objective details, and described an entirely different person. The point I’m trying to make? Facts in and of themselves do little to help us understand what a character is like. It’s in the subjective details that we start to feel like we truly know the people you are describing on the page.
Start writing that memoir!
For me, getting started writing a new book was always a challenge. My brain would go everywhere. But what’s the premise of the book? What’s the internal search? How do I end my book?! If your mind is tricking you into asking yourself questions that aren’t really relevant at the moment, the way out of this trap is to pick up a pen or open up your laptop and simply begin writing.
Forget thinking about the premise of your book or the theme for now. Simply think of a story from your life that you want to tell. Your task: Write a single scene.
Once you do this, you’ll find that writing the next scene is easier. And if you consistently write scenes, one after one, they pile up. You’ll realize that by consistently putting down your stories on paper, before too long, you’ll have enough pages to create a memoir.
If you’d like more info, check out the video below:
A Random House author offers tips on writing your own memoir.