Writers Write is your one-stop writing resource. In this post, we tell you why you need to write your memoir like fiction.
Why You Need To Write Your Memoir Like Fiction
Once you have done the ground work for your memoir, as we teach you to do in our memoirs course, you need to put your fiction writer’s hat on.
Let’s face it. Nobody wants to read a dry essay about your life. Readers want to be entertained. They want to journey with you into the past. You need to show them what happened to you.
So, let’s entertain our readers by learning how to write our memoirs like a novel.
How To Write A Memoir Like Fiction
1. Plot Your Memoir
Even though it is a real story, you need to plot it out. This will help you to avoid repeating scenes that are similar. The easiest way to do this is by showing us how you got into trouble and then how you got out of it. [We teach you how to do this on our Secrets of a Memoirist course.]
2. Re-Create Yourself As A Character
Try to show how you have grown as a person. Create a clear arc for yourself. Fill in one of our character questionnaires. More importantly, readers need to empathise with you – even if you have done terrible things. [Suggested reading: Make me care.]
3. Insert Dialogue
Even if you can’t remember exactly what you said, you know how you speak. You know how other people around you speak. Use dialogue to show your interactions with these people. If they are still alive, visit them and listen to their speech patterns and lexicon.
4. Remember Body Language
Have a good look at yourself and the people around you. Take note of their body language and remember to include it in your memoir. Remember that real people do things while they’re talking or thinking. Here are some examples to jog your memories: 60 Things For Your Characters To Do When They Talk Or Think
5. Include Settings That Matter
Remember that you are not writing an autobiography. Choose to describe and include only the settings that are relevant to your theme. Read: 12 Crucial Things To Remember About Setting
6. Use The Senses
This is perhaps more important in a memoir than it is in a work of fiction. Your descriptions will come alive when you use your senses to show and not tell.
7. Stick To Your Theme
If you know what the theme of your memoir is, you will be able to stick to the important parts that you should include in your story. If you don’t, you will add a lot of unnecessary scenes. [We teach you how to identify your theme on our Secrets of a Memoirist course.]
8. Answer The Question
Every good story asks a question and every good writer answers it. For example you may ask: How did he become a drug addict and how did he beat his addiction? Or ‘Why did she end up in prison and how did she get out?’ Readers want a reward for reading the story. Make sure you give it to them.
9. Pace Your Story
10. Use The Correct Viewpoint
An Example Of How This Works:
I could say:
“When I was a young girl in South Africa, I used to enjoy spending the evenings in the garden with my father.”
Or I could show you:
“I sit next to my dad on the patio. The dim moonlight catches the khaki of his shirt. I raise my head. The moon looks like a Golden Delicious apple peel. 'It’s waxing,' he explains to me. I don’t know what that means, but I love the moon. I chew my Wicks and make huge bubbles that pop into the dark, still night. He gets up to start his fire under the braai grid. I watch him choose the twigs and paper. He sorts through the woodpile until he finds just the right amount of hard wood – Acacia and Stinkwood and Wild Olive. The matches rattle in the box and the smell of sulphur stings the air as he places the flame against the tinder. He likes to sit and watch the fire, drinking in the night and his Lion Lager and drawing deeply on his cigarettes.” From The Eyes That Don’t Cry by Amanda Patterson (yet to be published)
P.S. If you want to learn how to write a memoir, join our Secrets of a Memoirist course.
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