When it comes to writing memoir, you have to ask yourself two questions. One: Is writing about sensitive topics going to get me into trouble? And two: Are my thoughts and feelings going to make the people around me upset? These constraints limit what you want and should say when writing memoir.
My new book “Burn This City to the Ground” had to tread this line very carefully as the story became unauthorized by my paralyzed client late in production and I was detailing intimate details of our shared lives. Many aspects of the narrative needed to be altered or completely changed because the story included vulnerable peoples. As was true with my first book “Corners Untouched by Madness” my stories can be described as collision courses with the truth. No secret is taboo. Everything is left out bare for readers to either accept or deny. I try not to write any characters as heroes or villains. I believe in the quote, “We are all the villain in some one's story.” The real crux of any narrative I write is rawness, grit and passion, not necessarily right or wrong. Of course all of the vulnerable, insecure areas of my life have to be included in that.
I was told memoir is not necessarily strict autobiography but what “feels genuine” to the writer. That being said I do my best to be fair and as accurate as possible. However, the truth is that life rarely happens in a cohesive, organized way. For me the hardest thing to keep consistent is the timeline. Rearranging the order of events is the best way to structure the flow of the book, to make the climaxes hit a little bit harder, to make the themes come to fruition at the correct times. These shared themes are also altered so that the reader can learn the lessons faster and more efficiently than the writer or the characters in the book. Specifically, there is one scene in the book where Samantha, my disabled client, and I are having a conversation in a hospital room about George Floyd. Everything in that scene happened at one time or another but bringing all of these true elements and creating one scene is more coherent than trying to cram serval scenes into the book, making it too complicated. Characters are either combined or eliminated to simplify the plot. Plot threads are cut short or altered to eliminate distraction. Life is much too chaotic to include everything and writing a disjointed, convoluted story is not going to attract readers. These are just a few lessons I learned from being a memoir author.
When you write a memoir you have to be ethical. It shouldn't be used to attack or call people out but it also shouldn't necessarily protect people from wrongdoing either. The important thing is to be completely honest, not just about your characters but with yourself as well. Write about the things you did wrong. Be brutally honest. Don't use the medium to point out the flaws in others. Memoir can be a powerful tool for growth, self introspection and at the end of the day you will find yourself saying, “I never understood why that happened. Now I get it. I get why I thought that. I get why I did that.” Don't underestimate re-exploring your personal experiences. The truth is you will probably learn more about yourself than your readers will.
Final thoughts. Respect the characters in your book. Make them into real people. Share their thoughts, aspirations and why their shortcomings exist in a humble way. Respect yourself. Don't build yourself up or knock yourself down. Be honest about who you are. Finally, respect the reader enough to place the setting of your book in reality. Show all sides. Original sin is a thing and we were all born innocent. Be sympathetic to your characters. Be sympathetic to yourself but also don't be afraid to give them all a good crack once in awhile. As always I am here to help. You can contact me at here: email@example.com
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