Writing a memoir based on your own experiences can be quite a challenge unless you have the right story. What you want is to make an emotional connection with your reader from the first page. This means you need a good opening.
In my book Writing To Heal (ed 2), I share some of my story, it’s a healing story about my journey to self-love which enable me to heal my body when my spine fractured. This is how it opens…
Opening the computer, I was faced with a rare and unusual sight, my husband’s penis. Only a few minutes earlier, an insistent voice had instructed me to ‘open the computer.’ The voice was loud, but there wasn’t anyone there. Looking around and feeling foolish, I stepped towards the kitchen table and tentatively touched his mobile phone. ‘Open the computer!’ this time louder and more urgent.
If your opening grabs someone’s attention they will certainly want more of your memoir.
From here, you are building trust with your reader. Imagine you are with a close friend and divulging what happened. They are a confidante, and you are sharing a secret. And in a way, it is a secret – until now…
From here, you want to be thinking like a fiction writer and weaving your magical tale. Fiction writers have a story framework that you can borrow for your memoir and this exercise. Now, you may not be ready to tell your memoir so use this to whet your creative appetite.
The story framework for your memoir
The story framework is how we bring it all together. In this exercise, you are invited to look at each section, dive deep into your imagination, engage with your inner child and have fun with elements of the story. Grab your journal and scribble. Then at the end pull it all together in a delicious tale…
The twists, turns, and encounters that take us from the first meeting to the final pages, where our main character’s life is changed forever is the plot. We are left understanding why and how then applying it to our lives and wondering what if.
You are creating a series of interconnected events, which flow seamlessly through the landscape of your memory, carrying you over the rough bumps, steering you around the conflicts and on to triumph. How will the plot take us on a journey through your story?
Plot answers the fundamental questions of who, what, where, when, how, and why, making sense of the story’s underlying meaning.
Who, why, what, when, where?
We invariably write stories by pulling on our own experiences. This is where you can turn some of your journaling into a creative life writing story. I like to do this in a more positive way whilst having fun.
Who… is your protagonist?
What do you know about you?
That might seem like a silly question, but as you stop to reflect what do you know about who you are as a person? Try this powerful exercise called I am. Create a mind-map with I AM at the centre and just write lots of I am words that describe you. Then come back and write a few short sentences about who you are. Think about what you will be sharing and your motivation for doing so. Also, consider what aspects of your personality you will share.
There is usually someone other than you at the heart of every story. In this exercise, imagine that you are interviewing them. We will use the information we glean to include them in our made-up memoir. They could be a single person you know or a mixture of a few. I love mixing several people up. You could use a picture of a random person. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know them, this is all about your filters and perceptions. Be creative and have fun. Here are a few questions to start you off.
Who is that person?
- How old are they?
- Male or female
- How would their friends describe them?
- How would their enemies describe them?
- What is the best thing that happened to them?
- What is the worst thing that happened to them?
- Any skeletons in the closet?
- How do they overcome their challenges?
- What inspires them?
Now that you have a good feel for or idea about who they are, think about how you might include them in your story and what is going to happen to them.
Why… is your character motivated to act? OR, what is the story’s key emotion?
Emotions can be complicated. Some might feel intense, while others seem mild in comparison. You might feel conflicting emotions at any given time. But emotions can serve a purpose, even when they’re negative. Instead of trying to change the emotions you experience, consider how you react to them. It’s usually the reactions that create challenges, not the emotions themselves. This is how you want to connect with your reader. Consider these and choose one.
What… is the opening scenario?
This powerful piece will draw your readers further in and set the scene. Opening scenes introduce characters, plots, settings, and where the story is going.
When… does it happen, and what is the timeframe it runs over?
Think of the timeframe that your story runs over. It makes sense to not let the story wander over too long a period. You need to consider the pace of your story and how to keep it realistic.
Where… is your story going to start?
Probably the hardest part about writing anything is how to start a story in the first place. It’s said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but what about its opening lines? The beginning carries the daunting task of hooking the reader in, and the writer has a very brief window of time to do so. E.g.
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (1813). It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
Every story has a conflict. Him against her, you against the world, them against you and the emotions attached to your story. There are many ways that you will deal with conflict. Note what comes up for you as you plan this out.
Message or moral
Most people believe that there is no difference between ethics and morality. But the truth is, one is defined by someone else, and one is defined by you and is based on your internal belief system. In this context, a moral is the underlying message of your story. Morals teach you how to behave in the world and demonstrate living by your values. So, what is the moral of your story? What is the lesson that you learn from writing your story? What will you do as a result of discovering the moral of your story? Then ask what the reader learns?
Bring it together
Once you have explored each of the components, write your story. Think of this happened and then that happened. Really let go and write. Make it as long or as short as you like. You are not writing a book, more a synopsis of your story. You can make it as long or as short as you like. There are no rules.