Test Blog Site

Your Memoir: Getting People on the Page

Actually, writing your own story can be fraught with difficulty – how much do you say? What details will enliven your story and make it richer, without boring your reader? How honest should you be about the bad stuff – and the people in your life who may or may not still be around?

I remember my grade school librarian Miss Peabody…She was very tall and very thin and there was always a ribbon or scarf tied around her head from which bubbled lots of silver-gray curls.                      (Joe Brainard, I Remember)

A memoir is a personal history: the past from your point of view. You’re trying to engage your readers – whether those are family, whanau, friends or a wider audience.

You want more than just a flat recounting of names, places, and events. You need to bring those things to life.

In the quotation above, Joe Brainard describes interesting physical details of Miss Peabody. After just those few words, we have a vivid mental image of her.

Here’s another famous memoirist, Frank McCourt, in his book Angela’s Ashes:

“I think my father is like the Holy Trinity with three people in him, the one in the morning with the paper, the one at night with the stories and the prayers, and then the one who does the bad thing and comes home with the smell of whiskey and wants us to die for Ireland.”

There’s a whole lot going on here. We already know the Frank (the child telling the story) is growing up in Catholic Ireland. Comparing Dad to the Holy Trinity shows how immersed in Catholicism he is. The details of the father – the paper, the stories and prayers, and the smell of whiskey – economically show us a complex character and relationship through the eyes of a child struggling to understand. In fact, treating his father like a character, rather than a real person, is one way Frank McCourt is able to bring him to life.

When writing about the people in your life, past or present, flesh them out by choosing distinctive details of their character, dress, or habits. You can use physical description, or a simile like Frank McCourt, or perhaps some dialogue if that illustrates who they are and how they behave.

Help your readers form that mental picture of the person you knew.

Want to learn more? Need writing ideas or help with your writing skills?

I’d love to hear from you, and chat with you about what I can do to help.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp