Fiction and Memoir – Early Decisions

Here are points to consider before you start writing a narrative that involves characters and events. These are early decisions that will affect every phase of the writing.

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Whose story is it? The main character is not necessary the—

  • Voice (first- or third-person narrator)
  • A person or an omniscient historian?
  • Point of view (POV):
    • Opinionated or objective/reportorial?
    • Educated or not? Grade level? Reading level?
    • Identifiable ethnicity, regionalisms, vocabulary, dialect?
    • Expert on topic or curious ingénue?

Memoir implies first-person point of view (POV). How will you deal with—?

  • You can’t describe events you haven’t witnessed except by hearsay.
  • You can’t describe parallel events you didn’t know about at the time.
  • You can’t tell us what other people are thinking, although you can guess.
  • You can’t possess supernatural knowledge and stay credible.
  • You can’t die or become incapacitated at the end (!)

Must you stick to the facts?

  • Fictionalization makes a better story (hence movie disclaimer “inspired by a true story”)
    • Conflict is drama
    • Exposition can be boring unless embedded in an argument
      • Scene begins with disagreement about action: Where do you want to go to dinner?
      • Scene ends with argument about values: I knew you never loved me!
  • Powerful tool if you can do it: Consolidate characters
    • Character consolidation can help avoid life-story rights issues
    • Also consider changing sex, race, or other identifying characteristics

The emotion is in the subplot!

  • And carries the theme
  • Interweave theme and subplot with main story

Tools and work methods

  • File cards
    • Color-coded for plot and subplot(s)!
    • Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle
    • Helps you know when flashbacks or digressions get in the way
  • Character sketches as background
  • Research aids
    • Maps of locations
    • Postcards/online imagery
    • Google Maps street-level views. (You can describe places you’ve never been or don’t remember well.)
    • Ephemera – Research libraries (universities and foundations) may have collections of the subject person’s correspondence and memorabilia.
    • Wikipedia and other online resources
    • Be careful—fact-check like a reporter
  • Enforce consistency like a script supervisor
    • Include character and scene consistency notes in your editorial style sheet
    • Watch for time and seasonal progression in the story

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