[This excerpt is from our Secrets of a Memoirist course.]
“Memoir… may look like a casual and even random calling up of bygone events. It’s not; it’s a deliberate construction.” ~William Zinsser
Even Memoirs Need Suspense
Suspense is not conflict. Suspense means keeping readers on the edge of the page, guessing and wondering what will happen next. The way to do this is by asking a question, or series of questions, in the beginning of your memoir and not answering until the end.
Even if the readers of your memoir know your story, and they obviously know you have survived, you can keep some things back. This will keep them interested enough to go all the way to the end to find out how you coped.
It is often the ‘how’ that is more important than the ‘why’ in a memoir. Take a step back and write yourself as if you were writing a character in a novel. Show how you lived, breathed, and felt throughout the memoir.
Seven Ways To Create Suspense in Memoirs:
- Use heightened sensory details. If you were waiting for an abusive partner to come home, every sound becomes loaded with possibilities. [Read: The 5 Senses – How Readers Remember Stories]
- Confide in your reader. Tell the reader your plans, your dreams, and your hopes. This allows them to get to know you and empathise with you. They will be as devastated as you are when things do not go as planned.
- Use time constraints. If you had a ‘ticking clock’ situation with deadlines and the consequences of missing those deadlines, use it in your story. It will keep you and your readers alert.
- Show dilemmas. We all have to make choices. Use dilemmas you faced and offer readers a bird’s eye view into your life as you made your decisions.
- Add pressure. You will have dealt with pressure and complications in your life. Make sure you write these into the appropriate scenes of your memoir with the intensity they deserve.
- Micro-manage suspense. We all want something every day. We may want to go shopping, or get to a meeting on time. You are no different. Show readers how the little things that do not work out for you make a difference.
- Make promises and keep them. If you tell readers that your story will change their lives, make sure you show them how your life changed, and keep that promise.
Now let’s complete the exercises in the workbook.
P.S. If you want to learn how to write a memoir, join our Secrets of a Memoirist course.
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