Memoir Writing Tenses

It’s a little bit creepy how it turns out that things about which I had only been thinking but hadn’t yet uttered aloud or even typed to anyone happen to turn up as a topic in a notification on my Facebook. The following link is one of them:

Writers Digest article on memoir structure

In case the article disappears from view someday, I will copy it in its entirety here.

5 Things to Consider When Structuring Your Memoir
September 12, 2018
by Cheryl Suchors

For some writers, structure appears like a bridge in the mist; for others, like myself, there’s only the mist. Several ingredients can be used to create a structure, like that bridge, that works for your book. You may know the answers to the considerations below right away, or you may need to experiment and discover them through the writing itself. Either way, memoir structure is as crucial as structure in fiction and no good memoir will be able to stand tall without it.

Memoir Structure: 5 Things to Consider When You’re Writing a Memoir

1. Order of Events

In some memoirs, Without a Map by Meredith Hall for example, the chapters jump forward and backward in time. This adds an element of unpredictability that both challenges and engages the reader.

Most memoirs, however, tend to flow chronologically. That is, they run through events in the sequence in which they happened. But even a chronological memoir isn’t purely chronological since the narrator is now an adult filtering past experiences through the lens of a wiser, more mature person. This is part of what adds richness to the tale.

If you can avoid a mostly chronological structure, good for you. You’ll benefit from the inherent complexity. But if, like most memoirists, you are using a chronological structure, there are still several techniques to help you avoid the pitfall of “first this happened, then that happened,” an approach that drains the life and tension from a book.

I stuck to a chiefly chronological structure in 48 PEAKS, Hiking and Healing in the White Mountains, while playing with various elements of structure to create movement and interest: storyboarding, sectioning, tense, and time.

2. Storyboarding

Basically, a book poses a central question or issue in the beginning and answers or resolves it, for good or ill, by the end. Storyboarding the rising and falling action that creates drama is a technique borrowed from film.

I learned how to use a storyboard to structure my memoir from Mary Carroll Moore, author of Your Book Starts Here. (She also does a youtube explanation, embedded below, and offers a wonderful blog on writing at marycarrollmoore.com.)

Essentially, there are five key points: the triggering event that gets the action rolling down toward the second point, a conflict or complication that gets worked through to create a rising action; the third turn which sends the action spiraling downward to the fourth point, the lowest point of the book, from which the action ascends to the fifth point or conclusion. These five points shape, in effect, a capital W.

Figuring out these five points provides the skeleton of your memoir. From there, one decides what must happen between each pair of points or leg of the W.

I wrote my five key points onto five brightly colored sticky notes and stuck them in their appropriate spot, creating a large W on a big piece of white cardboard. Each scene or action I thought belonged in 48 PEAKS went onto a sticky note. I placed the stickies somewhere between a pair of points. I moved certain bits around to even things out or build tension. Sometimes I had to create scenes to improve the flow, or delete those that weren’t integral to the rest of the book. In either case, it was easier to come to these conclusions because I could literally see the cogs that made the wheel of my memoir turn.

Once you’ve settled on the right order for your storyboard, see if it makes sense for your manuscript to be divided into parts. Sectioning can be a way of supporting your reader through the material in a way that we’re all so used to it doesn’t intrude as it guides.

My manuscript, for example, fell into two parts as neatly as an apple cleaved in half. (Not that I planned it that way.) A main character in the first half, for reasons I won’t go into here, disappeared in the second half. And that disappearance created a certain thrust for the second part.

From a story point of view, the sectioning made sense. It also, frankly, made the material easier for me to work with, since I was manipulating one half of the book at a time. I did have to go back later on to ensure themes wove the two halves together, but sectioning made earlier drafts less arduous.

4. TENSE

In what tense will you write your memoir? Present tense has the benefit of intimacy and immediacy; simple past is familiar, virtually transparent to readers, and can be easier to sustain for a book-length project.

My early drafts were written completely in the present tense because it helped me, the writer, feel again what I transcribed. But I experimented with the simple past as well and liked both ways. I couldn’t decide which to do, until a developmental editor suggested putting the first half in the past tense and the second half in the present. This idea appealed to me because, as a reader, I sometimes found books sagged in their middles. Switching at that point to the present tense introduced a novelty and a speed that I hoped would keep readers turning the pages.

Changing tenses worked because I began the book with a prologue that took place four years after the start of the book in chapter one. I wrote the prologue in present tense to establish that year as the narrative present. In this way, the whole first half was past tense because it had happened earlier. The second half of the book returned to the narrative present and took off from there.

5. Time

Flashbacks are another way to play with time and break up the chronological line. They not only add depth to characters but also create tension as the reader must wait for the story to move onward. Flashbacks were a handy device, I found, when I didn’t want to resolve a situation too quickly but wanted the drama to build for awhile.

You can also use long sections of narration in the same manner as flashbacks, breaking up the forward motion of the book with, in effect, pauses to consider a point, a whole chunk of history, or a theme. I advise using this technique sparingly; too many pauses or digressions can merely aggravate readers.

If it makes sense for your story, one can also create flash forwards, though these are typically brief and have to be handled with care so as not to jolt the reader.

Conclusion

Finding the structure that fits and supports your memoir takes effort. If you’re going with a primarily chronological order, as most of us do, a slightly playful attitude allows you to experiment, to stretch and pull the inherent drama from your story like taffy.

Above all, be patient. Persevere. If you keep at it, the structure that uniquely suits your memoir will come to you through the mist.

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Writing With A Pen

For me, there is something therapeutic about picking up a ball-point pen and watching the letters form on a fresh page, especially those first words in a new notebook. The word “sacred” comes to mind.

Whether I write via ink or through the wonders of electronic transmission, getting the words out is the main thing. Still, something about pen and paper beckons to me. Perhaps it is the relative simplicity, where no electricity or electronics are involved, giving more of a sense of creating something from my mind and connecting to the result.

bursting-heart-pen

I read an article today on the subject of writing by hand. I find it to be inspiring. Here it is.

The Simple Joy of Writing by Hand

 

Scrawling About God

Sometimes I feel like going out to my incomplete writing shed, taking a pen and notebook, and writing in big scrawling letters about how much I love God, obliterating the thoughts of how frustrated I am with everything else in the world.

Yes, focusing on my love for Him (“We love him, because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19). and what I know from His Word about His love for me, throwing in some imagination and inferences about how heaven is going to be, is what I need to do, and perhaps I will find that for those few moments, nothing else will matter.

If I could do it in crayon on large sheets of newsprint, all the better.

But then…

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.” *

*Taken from Frederick M. Lehman’s “The Love Of God”
(Of note, “scrawling” is not considered a proper word. Right now, I do not care.)

Logophiles and Wordsmiths group

My blog doesn’t have a specific theme, but it does lean in the direction of the subjects of writing, grammar, and general wordsmithery – not that the latter is an actual English word, but it is an example of what can be done when one smiths words.

I want to share a link to a Facebook group for those who love the English language. It is called “Logophiles and Wordsmiths”. It was born on Sunday, February 7, 2016, in British Columbia, Canada, weighing 8 lbs, 4 oz (just kidding on the weight), so at the time of this blog entry, it is still very new.

Check out the description. If you think you’d feel comfortable with such a group, I invite you to join. Please note, if you do not know how to properly use “your/you’re”, “there/their/they’re”, “where/were”, and other common English written words, this is not the place for you. This is our haven from the sights of poor writing. If you ever end a sentence with the personal pronoun “I”, you will be removed.

If improper writing chafes your butt, you might enjoy not only the break from seeing such textual indiscretions, but also the camaraderie of others who appreciate and strive for fine English writing.

Oh, but we are not a stodgy bunch! There has been a lot of laughter in there, and I anticipate more of it.

Here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/logophilesandwordsmiths/

I hope to see some more logophiles and wordsmiths in the group soon!

logophiles and wordsmiths logo (2)

12 Common Grammar Mistakes

  1. Affect vs. effect. The easiest way to remember the difference between the two is affect means “to influence.” So if you’re going to influence something, you will have an affect. If it’s the result of something, it’s an effect.
  2. The Oxford comma. In a series of three or more terms, you should use what’s referred to as the Oxford comma. This means you should have a comma before the word “and” in a list. For instance: The American flag is red, white, and blue. Many people debate this, but I’m a believer in it because there are times when you don’t have the extra comma and the sentence doesn’t make sense. I prefer to err on the side of having the Oxford in there.
  3. Commas, in general. And speaking of commas, slow down when you’re writing and read your copy out loud. You don’t want to make this mistake: Let’s eat grandma vs. let’s eat, grandma. Poor grandma will be eaten if you forget the comma.
  4. Their, they’re, and there. You’d think everyone learned this rule in fourth grade, but it’s a very common mistake. Use “there” when referring to a location, “their” to indication possession, and “they’re” when you mean to say “they are.”
  5. Care less. The dismissive “I could care less” you hear all the time is incorrect. If you could care less, that means there is more you could care less about the topic. Most people omit the “not” in that phrase. It should be, “I couldn’t care less.”
  6. Irregardless. This word doesn’t exist. It should be regardless.
  7. Nauseous. How many times have you said you felt nauseous? This is incorrect. You feel nauseated. Nauseous means something is sickening to contemplate.
  8. Your and you’re. Another mistake you see in people’s social media profiles and in the content they create is not correctly using “your” and “you’re.” If you’re meaning to say “you are,” the correct word is “you’re” (like at the beginning of this sentence). Otherwise the word is “your.”
  9. Fewer vs. less. Another common mistake, “less” refers to quantity and “fewer” to a number. For instance, Facebook has fewer than 5,000 employees.
  10. Quotation marks. Among great debate, people ask all the time whether or not punctuation belongs inside or outside quotation marks. It belongs inside.
  11. More than vs. over. I’m pretty sure the advertising agency created this grammatical error. Instead of saying, “We had more than 50 percent growth” in ad copy, “over” allows for more space. So they say, “We had over 50 percent growth.” Drives. Me. Crazy.
  12. Me vs. I. I was reading something by a big muckety muck the other day and the copy read, “This year has brought a big personal development for my wife and I…” No, no, no! If you were going to say that without the mention of your wife, you wouldn’t say, “This year has brought a big personal development for I.” You would say “me.” So this year has brought a big personal development for my wife and me.

Copied from here:  http://socialmediatoday.com/ginidietrich/1738311/grammar-police-twelve-mistakes-nearly-everyone-makes

Proper Use of the Personal Pronoun “I”

I think there are a lot of people afraid of me.

I mean, the word “me” – not me personally.

It is okay to use the word “me”, folks.

I cringe when I see misuse of the personal pronoun “I”.

I often see examples of what NOT to do in captions under photos on Facebook, such as:

“Sally and I at Disneyland”

“Mom and Dad at John and I’s Wedding”

“Baby Boy with Daddy and I”

“Hilda gave these flowers to Suzy and I”

Perhaps as a child, when you said, “Doug and me are going to the store,” you were corrected by some well-meaning person, “You mean, ‘Doug and I are going to the store,” so you assumed that every time you say “me” you should replace it with “I”, regardless of where it falls in the sentence.

An easy test to see if you’re using your words properly is to ask yourself, “Does this sentence still make sense if I remove the other person?”

This even works in phrases that are not actual sentences, such as photo captions.  Watch this:

“Sally and I at Disneyland”.

Remove Sally from the picture and see if it still makes sense.

“I at Disneyland”.

Um, no.  Sounds dumb.

The phrase “Me at Disneyland” sounds better, albeit a little Captain Caveman-ish, but it’s just a caption and not an actual sentence so you can get away with it that way.

“Mom and Dad at John and I’s Wedding”.

That is not the easiest thing to caption, but I would do it like this:

“Mom and Dad at John’s and my wedding.”

In short:

1.  Ask yourself if the sentence or phrase still makes sense without mention of the other person.

2.  When dealing with more than one person and yourself, mention the other(s) first.

3.  Never end a sentence with “I”.

caveman

Captain Caveman, cartoon character from the 1970s

 

Great Writing

In my opinion, good writing sells itself.

Or, to paraphrase, good writing draws in a readership whether it be a paying one or not.

When I read what I deem to be good writing, the kind that draws me in regardless of subject matter, my brain is storing those tools which caught my eye — tools such as words that fascinate me, words that are new to me, grammar, punctuation, rhyme, meter, brevity, organization, white space, or other pieces yet to be named.

Like, hey, what’s this thing?  I don’t know, but I’m going to try using it to open up this locked box and see what happens.

Of course, what catches my eye may not be the same as what catches another writer’s eye.  One man’s great writing is another man’s fire starter.

© Steeny Lou 2013

Adverbs are not necessarily necessary

Quote

(The following is from the blog of jmmcdowell).

“Adverbs are all over my drafts. And they serve a useful role there. Adverbs are my place holders as ideas rush out and my fingers can’t keep up with them on the keyboard. Later, when I’m editing, they remind me what I was thinking. “He reached clumsily for his keys” can be revised to “He fumbled for his keys.” Or, “She said gently” reminds me to make sure her dialogue makes that feeling clear.

From my 1/1/12 post: “A Writer’s New Year Confession – I Don’t Hate Adverbs (Or Adjectives)”

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