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!

Baby Huey

Baby Huey and Mama Huey.

that’s what my sister Annette called us

back when we were kids

in the Sixties,

laughing,

always laughing.

 

You have to be old enough

to remember them—cartoon ducks.

I, small, thin, wagging finger,

Mama Huey.

 

Annette, larger than Mama,

plump (fat),

Baby Huey.

 

At supper, Dad:

“Annette, you eat too much.”

She, running away

from the table

in tears

to the bedroom

we shared,

breaking my heart.

 

“Dad, do you have to?” I ask.

I’m seven, going after her

to see if I can soothe,

make her laugh.

 

She and I—

a life of diets.

I, as a teen, turned 

anorexic.

She, in her twenties, began

the way of

The Knife.

 

Decades followed of:

Fill this out.

Laser this away.

Cut this off.

Lift my chin.

 

Slit my throat.

 

Annette’s last

beautifying

youthifying

uplifting

surgery

killed

her.

 

And she never even got

to be the

“gorgeous”

melodramatic

corpse

for all to come and see, which 

she used to laughingly brag about

with wide smile and a

flare of her surgically-slimmed upper arms.

“My luck!” she would have said.

 

Her ashes

arrived in my

mailbox months later,

in a small, black sachet—

all that’s left of my

laughing buddy,

my beautiful

Baby Huey.

 

Untitled Poem by Adrienne Faulkner

Mom,

when I was little

I felt safe

walking behind you

my child’s legs unsure

of each step I took

on my journey.

 

You were my guide,

my comfort,

my protection.

 

But, now I am tall,

my legs longer,

and I struggle

to fit in

behind you.

 

I look over your shoulder,

curious and excited

about the world

I see ahead of me.

 

Mom,

it is time

for us to part,

you on your journey

and me on mine.

 

Please don’t worry.

I’ll be fine.

I’m wearing a coat

of all you’ve taught me.

 

Wish me well,

and watch me fly.

 

Thank you, Mom.

With all my love.

My cousin Rosario      

I don’t usually write poetry, but here’s one I wrote six years ago as the Spirit moved me.  It was a tough time for me and also Rosario then, and I sat down and wrote this as he was pulling out of his parking space in his car to go home after spending a weekend with me after not seeing each other for over 20 years.  In those 20 years, his older brother had died suddenly and my older sister, same.  Also, his father was my favorite uncle and my father, same for Rosario, both of whom had also since passed from this vale of tears.

Here’s the poem, and the link at the bottom to where I had posted it originally on my TwoShores.net blog about my novel by the same name.

My cousin Rosario                                                    by Valerie Serrano, April 21, 2012

My past pulls out of the driveway.

I swallow tears.

 

An unnamed loneliness

slides in.

 

So many decades,

so many stories—

his,

mine,

his father’s,

my father’s,

the war they fought that

scarred their souls,

our mothers,

my sister,

his brother.

 

Back then, he was a kid,

me a teen—

the uncles,

the aunts,

the food,

the fights.

 

My past pulls out of the driveway,

tearing into the now.

 

Safe trip, my cousin

Rosario.

My Cousin Rosario

2 Quotes, Stephen King

“To write is human, to edit is divine.”

 “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” 
― both quotes from
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

 I agree wholeheartedly that when you’re in your first rough draft, keep the door closed, i.e., don’t let others see it until it’s had time to “cook” on the page.

 But after that first draft, it’s time to get tough-skinned and be willing to allow another trusted writer or editor to go over your writing and help you tighten it, with a keen eye for what to keep in and what to throw out.  This is what separates amateurs from seasoned writers.

 Remember, every story you’ve ever read since you were six years old had the input of an editor intermingled with the author’s words throughout.

 Writing is Rewriting.  Hemingway was write … I mean, right.

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! :- )