August 18, 2017

Practice Makes Perfect: Why Practicing the Art of Scene Writing Is the Path to Memoir Excellence

Scenes are the building blocks of memoir. Given this is so, you can’t really begin to write a great memoir—heck, even a good memoir—until you master scene. Linda Joy and I teach scene in nearly all the classes we teach. (In fact, we did a recent hour-long intensive on scene that’s available to view here.) And as much as we know how important it is for memoirists to wrap their minds around the mechanics of what’s involved, there’s no substitute for practice. In my opinion, practice comes in … [Read more...]

The Secret of Scenes that Keep your Readers Reading

As readers, we tend to take for granted the writer’s skill, but when your heart starts pounding, and in your mind’s eye you see vivid colors and feel the wind, you are experiencing the writer’s skill in creating a world. You’re lost in a story and stop noticing the passage of time, a car honking outside, or a barking dog.  The author succeeded in connecting her imagery and language and feelings with your emotions, bringing you into what John Gardner, author of The Art of Fiction calls “The … [Read more...]

Where Are We in Relation to the Last Scene? Tracking Time in Memoir

Lately, with my memoir students and clients, I find myself writing the following query into nearly every submission: Where are we in relation to where we just were? As the writer of your memoir, it’s critical to remember that you lived the experiences you’re writing about, and that you must slow down and anchor the reader again and again and again as to where they are in your timeline—multiple times in a single chapter. I encourage my students to read best-selling memoirs to see how other … [Read more...]

Zooming Out and In: How to Harness the Power of Your Memoir Camera Lens

In our six-month course, Linda Joy and I teach a class called “Write Your Memoir Like a Movie.” The point of this metaphor---memoir as movie**---is to teach students how to get behind the lens of their own memoir camera and to think like the director of their own story. Too often we see aspiring memoirists not using the full range of their camera lens, instead staying completely zoomed out in the Big Picture, reluctant to zoom in and create the details of the scene they’re asking their reader to … [Read more...]

The Narrator of your Memoir

When you read a book, a nearly invisible narrator is guiding you through the text—helping you to focus on the important things in your story. The narrator guides you through the action and setting, and guides you to understand the psychology of the characters, goals, conflicts, and themes being explored. Through the narrator, you learn what’s at stake—what the tensions and conflicts in the story are, even if they’re internal. The narrator translates and interprets an action by offering a … [Read more...]

Mary Karr’s Truth

In September I had the great honor of interviewing Mary Karr, whose claim to fame is this little feat of having penned three best-selling memoirs(!). Karr’s new book is The Art of Memoir, and reading it is like having a front row seat to one of her exclusive graduate seminars, which you’ll never get into in real life because they’re so darn competitive. To start, I highly recommend this book to any student of memoir, anyone who’s trying to write a memoir, and anyone who’s ever written a … [Read more...]

Takeaway: The Heart of Memoir Writing

When writers hear the word “takeaway” it evokes something specific. It speaks to what your reader gets from reading your work. What they walk away with. We originally started using the term "takeaway" in our memoir classes because of Brooke’s background as an acquiring editor, where every single manuscript evaluated for acquisition had to pass a single litmus test: Did the story have a takeaway? As we developed curriculum for the various memoir classes we teach together at … [Read more...]