by guest blogger Kathleen Pooler
We all have a stories inside of us that only we can tell; and throughout our lives we have “defining moments”, pivotal experiences that shape who we are and transform our lives. At the time we may not realize the significance of these moments or experiences. Sometimes they resurface when we begin writing.
Deciding where your memoir will begin is often a challenging task for memoir writers since memoir represents a slice of your life told as a story as opposed to autobiography which tells a life story in chronological order.
Since we are advised to hook our reader within the first paragraph, it makes sense that we review the defining moments in our lives where life as we knew it changed.
Screen writer, Art Holcomb struck a chord with me in this brilliant guest post on Larry Brooks’ Storyfix blog, “The Personal Story Arc”. “As writers, we must use every bit of whatever emotion is inside to tell our stories because, although we are special, our experiences are not unique. It all comes from the defining moment.”
Pat is the author of several books, the most recent one being, One Page At A Time, a nonfiction book on the writing life. Although she focuses on fiction, her writing tips apply to nonfiction/memoir writing: Write the right story, using the right point of view and always write from your personal real-life experiences, i.e. “Don’t pretend to be Catholic or Jewish or poverty-stricken, if you’re not.” During her “write a childhood memory involving an epiphany” prompt, I wrote a vignette about the day my paternal grandmother nursed an injured wren back to health by squeezing drops of water from a cotton ball into its opened beak. For the first time, I realized that her modeling of caretaking may have planted the seeds in me to become a nurse. My epiphany occurred fifty-eight years later as I wrote the story.
Alice is a former editor, agent, memoir writing coach and author of several books, the most recent being, No More Rejection: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript That Sells. She led us through an exercise to define our story opening in her “Mazes, Mentors and Miracles” memoir workshop, asking questions such as: “What exactly is the nature of the moment in your life when the story opens?” She urged us to “find the pieces of your story and assemble them into your own chapters from the heart of your experience. Write them right and they’ll deserve to be heard.”
Pat, Alice and the many wonderful women surrounding me led me to the “defining moment” in my memoir, the place where I will step into my own story. It’s time to “take off the protective covering” as Alice advised and write from the “heart of my experience.”
Once I defined the moment the reader would step into my story, the story unfolded without much effort on my part. I had already written piles of vignettes that needed to be arranged and rearranged so I could shape them into a story with a beginning, middle and end- a narrative arc.
Memoir is more than a recollection of memories in chronological order. In order for it to be a story, it needs a hook, a theme, a plot with conflict and tension, scenic details, character development, point of view and reflection.
I asked myself the following questions before I decided on where my reader would step into my story:
What is my purpose for writing?
What is my main message/theme?
What scene or scenes best portray my theme?
How will I hook my reader in the first sentence?
How will I create enough interest on the first page to make my reader want to keep reading?
Where will the reader enter into my story?
Once the reader enters, what will make him/her want to stay?
After much trial and error, I decided to start my memoir at the lowest and most dramatic point in my life- a scene where my preteen children and I escaped in the middle of the day from my second husband due to a threat of physical abuse… still a work-in-progress but now in the revision stage.
How about you? Have you discovered the defining moments in your life? If you are a writer, have you found the place where you will step into your story?
Kathleen Pooler is a writer and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner who is working on a memoir about how the power of hope through her faith in God has helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments: divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories.
One of her stories “ The Stone on the Shore” is published in the anthology: “The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys From Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment” by Pat LaPointe.