Memoirs: those stories that capture moments in time and which can be moving, funny, insightful, exciting, scary, and challenging, and which reveal something real about the human condition.
- Paint a physical reality that uses all the senses and exists in the time you’re writing about—a singular, fascinating place peopled with objects and characters we believe in.
- Tell a story that gives the reader some idea of your milieu and exploits your talent. We remember in stories, and for a writer, the story is where you start.
- Package information about your present self or backstory so it has emotional conflict or scene.
- Set emotional stakes—why is the writer passionate about or desperate to deal with the past—the hint of an inner enemy?
- Think, figure, wonder, guess. Show yourself weighing what’s true, your fantasies, values, schemes, and failures.
- Change times back and forth—early on, establish the “looking back” voice, and the “being in it” voice.
- Collude with the reader about your relationship with the truth and memory.
- Show not so much how you suffer in long passages, but how you survive. Use humour or an interjecting adult voice to help a reader over the dark places.
- Don’t exaggerate. Trust that what you felt deeply is valid.
- Watch your blind spots—in revision, if not before, search for reversals. Beware of what you avoid and what you cling to.
And one big fat caveat: lead with your own talent, which may cause you to ignore all I’ve recommended.’