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Core Focus for Writing Memoir

DL: While this post is geared to those individuals who are writing memoir for family and friends, if truth be told, this post will also be of great help to those who are writing memoir for a larger audience. Core Focus for Writing Memoir is about basics.

Five Tips for Writing Memoir!

Is your family one of the many whose history is at risk for getting lost to future generations because no one has written it down?

Writing your lifestories—even just a few—is a great way to memorialize your family and to keep the experience of your life—and theirs—from being forgotten. The details you take for granted, or consider obvious, will most likely be lost to the next generation unless you make the effort to record them in writing.

Writing down a memory and sharing it with others is a way to celebrate your life and your family. Writing memoir is not as hard as some people think—anyone who is willing to follow the few simple steps I will outline below will be off to a great start at writing autobiography or family history. More and more people—in fact, many who at first think they can’t—are succeeding at exploring and honoring their pasts in this way.

Follow these five tips for remembering and writing a pleasing and meaningful lifestory that will honor both your family and yourself and create a legacy for your children—or even the world.

1) Make a memory list.

A Memory List is a list of everything you can remember about the people, places, and actions of a particular memory, era, or “character” in your life. Anything you recall is important enough to include. Jot down 3-5 words for each item on your list (“royal blue suit“ “scent of eucalyptus”). Your list will eventually be hundreds of items long.

Creating this list will stimulate you to remember more than you can now think possible. It will provide you with the details to make your story full and memorable. Once you have a memory list, you just pick an item and begin to write!

2) Show your story; don’t tell it.

Good stories engage us actively. Do this by recording action like a movie camera: show your “characters” (your family and friends) moving, talking and interacting rather than simply describing them. Write “She paced back and forth to the window, looking up and down the street for Jason,” rather than “she was impatient for Jason to get back.” Now really, which do you find more interesting to read!

3) Use all five senses.

Instead of writing that the room was “lovely,” give the reader details: color, style of furniture and curtains, lighting and decorations. Now, they can “see” the details for themselves. Use the other senses, too: smell, sound, taste and touch.

4) Use dialogue.

When you express thoughts and feelings in the “character’s” own voices, you make them jump right off the page. It’s okay to approximate or recreate a dialog especially if you take the time to remember unique phrases or pronunciations. Keep it short (it will be more believable and easier to write). Do not, however, make us read long dialog. It will sound like you’ve put words in other’s mouths.

5) Replace 50% of all adjectives with dialog, action, or setting.

You’ll gain vividness and immediacy as a result. Change “she was protective” to dialogue: “she  said ‘Don’t you ever, ever say that to my son again’.” Turn “she was angry” into an action: “she grabbed the plate and flung it against the wall.” Replace “we were poor” with details of setting: “The torn green and black linoleum barely covered the center of the room.”

Many adjectives are imprecise and simply do not convey the same meaning to one reader as they do to another. Use dialog, action, and setting to show what you mean.

These five suggestions are among the most powerful—and easiest—to implement in your personal and family history writing.

Remember: practice makes perfect.

If you want to preserve your personal and family history, you must write, write, write. Set yourself a time to write and honor your commitment. Your great grandchildren—and perhaps the world—will be so glad you did.

Good luck and sty in the memoir conversation!

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