If you want to write a memoir, begin with a powerful scene that provides a provocative glimpse into the story that follows. Here is the first paragraph of my upcoming memoir, Frozen Dinners – A Memoir of a Fractured Family.
“Irritated clouds of gray dust swirl behind my car and settle back onto the patches of scruffy sagebrush as I drive a back road into the village of Wendell, Idaho. I turn down 4th Avenue and stop in front of an insignificant old house where my family lived before my father became rich. Decades of decay and neglect are exposed as cheap vinyl siding sags on the outside walls and dead vines hang on crooked trellises over weathered boards thirsty for paint. I stare at the window of my former bedroom and wonder if it’s still nailed shut.”
Those four sentences reveal several essential facts to the story through key words and phrases. The words “village of Wendell, Idaho” tell readers the location of my small hometown. The phrase “before my father became rich” adds an interesting element in the second sentence. The third sentence about “decades of decay” offers a glimpse into a memoir about loss and longing. By the fourth sentence, I intend to hook the reader with the words “wonder if it’s still nailed shut.”
Why was my childhood window nailed shut? Keep reading to learn the truth. Also, to emphasize immediacy, the first chapter is written in present tense. The remaining chapters are in past tense.
Everyone has a story, and you should consider writing yours. Your life’s history contains a series of pivotal scenes that incorporate all the senses and emotions. List the important memories and then review them for the basis of an outline for your memoir. Do certain times and events seem more compelling that others? What is the essence of your story? How do you begin?
My memoir first percolated in my mind more than twenty years ago, and I adjusted the intensity of my writing for several years, often jumping into the mess of words only to quit and relinquish everything to the back burner. How do I, as a humor writer, rip open the scars to inspect the pain of the past? I couldn’t finish it, so I sporadically wrote additional chapters for the manuscript while working on humorous books, including Menopause Sucks, Midlife Cabernet, and Midlife Happy Hour.
My mother’s death in 2014, followed three years later by the death of my younger brother George, convinced me to complete the book. The memoir will be released in the fall by Brown Books Publishing.
Write Your Memoir – Free Workshop in Boise
The Idaho Writers Guild offers a full schedule of free workshops for beginning and intermediate writers. I’ll be presenting a memoir writing class on Thursday, June 21 at the Library at Collister, 4724 W State Street in Boise. The workshop, titled “Your Memoir – How to Avoid Flirting with Fiction,” begins at 7:00 with a 90-minute interactive session followed by audience discussion. The event is free and open to the public. Intermediate writers are encouraged to attend.
The workshop will focus on how to outline a memoir and how to separate fact from fiction. Worksheets will emphasize the importance of an opening paragraph to set the stage for the rest of the story.