Action drives your story and keeps your readers interested. Writing with effective action is a key to creating lifestories that people want to read.
1) The action of your memoir is its plot. Generally speaking, something must happen in your story to retain the interest of your reader. Some people have had roles in the political, economic, cultural life of their times. These people’s lives exhibit an external drama. They, just like those of us who have not had these roles, must find a way to convey their stories in a way that has internal rather than merely external drama.
The amount of action necessary to retain interest varies enormously according to the sensibility and the education of different readers. Someone who prefers reading about ghosts and unpredictable supernatural occurrences will not find the English psychological novelist Virginia Woolf very interesting. But it remains true that readers–both of pulp fiction and of serious writing–need some sort of action to move the story along. Although much of Virginia Woolf’s action is internalized, it counts as plot nonetheless.
2) The action of a story should start in the middle of things. If you are writing about the time you got fired from a job, don’t start with the first vocational aptitude test you took in high school. Instead, start when you are given a warning by a supervisor and get to the unhappy conclusion. Only with this sort of quick pacing will you keep the interest of the reader.
3) Explanations and background material are best given briefly, often preferably in phrases. Avoid the lengthy, informational flashback. Providing too much context can overwhelm your story and dissipate the energy of the action.
Avoid writing something like: Groveton, an industrial city founded in 1809 and having a large population of Slovaks who started coming in 1892, Hungarians who first migrated in 1896, Byelorussian who arrived in 1899, the Greeks whose numbers swelled after 1901, and Armenians who arrived around 1909, was the birthplace of my father.
4) To heighten the drama of your story, place your action in a context of historical movements. If you were the first woman in your family to get your own bank loan, you might mention how banks nationally were reacting to the phenomenon of two-worker families and responding to the realities of couples having separate financial lives. You might include how you were not raised to take responsibility for your own financial life and you might mention how others reacted. In so doing, you have created a panorama of a historical movement. You have created a larger context for your story, a situation that is peopled by an Everyman/woman!
By utilizing these tips you will be able to write a story with an action-driven plot capable of catching your reader’s interest–and keeping it. Action is the key to better writing.
Good luck with your writing! Let me know what you think.
We have helped many people whose lives demanded to be recorded but who themselves were not writers to create interesting and well-written memoirs.
We listen to you speak your story. We ask you a multitude of questions. Then we get to work writing. We come back to you with text and you make lots of corrective comments and we ask you a whole lot of new questions. Then, we go back to writing again.
Over time, your story develops into a memoir—one that you have shaped at every stage of the writing process.
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