Blueprint for Memoir or Fiction (and even some Poetry)

  1. What was the status quo?
  2. What happened to change, or destroy that?
  3. How did your main character (you, in a memoir) attempt to resolve it?
  4. How did his or her trials turn out?
  5. What do you hope the reader will walk away with?

In a book-length work, the same blueprint should also be the backbone of each chapter, which begins with a new status quo, a new problem for the character (you in a memoir) to get through, and a new ending—a cliffhanger to take the reader to the next chapter.

Even some poetry can fit into this blueprint.

Don’t see it as a template or outline, because it’s not.  But if you can’t answer the above questions, either before or after you’ve written the piece, something’s missing.  (Unless it’s “stream of consciousness”, which is just journal writing and not what I’m addressing here).

Beginning, middle, and end.  It’s the first lesson in the most basic writing class.  Even the story of how your day went today would be told as beginning, middle, and how it all ended. Hopefully, with your having gifted the world with one of your stories!

Quick Tips on Memoir, off the top of my head

Definition:  Memoir is about an incident in my life, not my whole life which is an autobiography.  Also, memoir is “softer” than autobiography in that it tends to be more about impressions regarding events than hardcore reportage of the details of the events themselves.

Educate your reader:  Don’t assume, if you’re writing about some legal matter, for example, that your readers will find it boring if you divulge enough to let us in on it, but not too much that it turns into a college course.

Don’t depress your reader:  Even the saddest story has its bright spots.  Write with some lighthearted relief among the heavier moments and even some humor if and when appropriate, remembering that often the best humor is directed at yourself.

Tell me a story:  Memoir is nonfiction; but always remember you’re still telling a story, with a beginning, middle, and an end. How were things to begin with? Then what happened to change them? Then what did you do, and how did it go? How did it all turn out? Did you learn anything?

Not therapy:  Even if it feels like therapy to write about a tough time in your life, don’t let that come through to your reader. This is a memoir not a psychiatrist’s couch.  Hold back raw anger.  Work that out in a journal before you start writing your memoir. Just tell us what happened and allow us the intelligence to figure things out.

Not me against them:  It’s easy to think back on an event and see ourselves as the only reasonable ones present at the time (me good, them bad), but be realistic and honest (dare I say, mature?) in your telling of the story, including those times you wish you’d acted differently. This adds depth not only to the story but also to you, the main character in it.

Be factually correct:  This is true with all writing.  Don’t insult your reader by not checking factual info before publishing.  Was that town, where my car skidded on the ice and I broke my leg and the orthopedist turned out to be my future husband, in California or Nevada?  Use the internet to look it up if you are not sure.

Be tough:  It’s not easy to go back over past events that were anything less than joyful in the experience.  Be sure you’re willing to do so, or the story may come out stilted.  I think it was Mark Twain who said if you’re not crying while you’re writing, your reader won’t cry when he reads it (he said the same about laughing, too).

Day One of Writing/Editing Class

8-28-18– Well, everything went smoothly for Day One of our writing/editing class.

We have a nice group and I’m hoping I didn’t scare anyone away!

Three keywords from the two hours of discussions today:

1 ** FOCUS. Necessary if you have a lot you want to write about and feel frozen, overwhelmed, and don’t know where to start.  Don’t give up.  Choose one particular element of your story and start with that, then relax and give the writing room. It will flow out from there, and your direction will start to present itself.

Focus is also important if you have several stories which you’ve already finished (though still rough drafts) or almost finished.  For the purpose of this class, I’d recommend you choose the one you prefer and begin to read it through, looking for places that need strengthening in one way or another.

2** CHALLENGE. We talked about what a challenge it is, and hard work, to do true writing and rewriting which includes self-editing, which can be painful.  As you read through your own work, the parts that need editing will start to jump out.  And when you’ve read it through, read it through again…and again. :- )  People hate when I say that.

It reminds me of when my mother Libby was teaching sewing or crocheting. She told me, “The thing they hate me for the most is when I say, ‘Rip it out.’”   Right.  Well, I’m not trying to be popular (good thing, you say), but try not to hate me.  I’m just passing on what I’ve learned from lots of other writers before me.

3** MEMOIR A poem a student (Adrienne) wrote for her mother will fit well as part of a memoir anthology because it reflects the writer’s feelings for her mother at the time she wrote it.  Memoir is “softer” than autobiography in that it doesn’t need dates or exact anything.  It can be about impressions, feelings, and outcomes with regard to the events being described.

Memoir is not your life story, though it can be part of someone else’s through your eyes. Memoir is about an event (remember Focus) that changed you and/or your life somehow—you’ll tell us how.

With memoir you should use your own name, though you can change the names of others who appear, if you wish.  If you do, you’d want to note that in an introduction at the beginning of the piece (or book if book-length).

(We’ll be discussing memoir at length next Tuesday)

Well, I’ll leave it at that for now. We talked about lots of other things, too, but these are some of the notable points to remember.

Take care and happy writing! :- )