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Action in a memoir is important.

Do you need action in a memoir?

Action in a memoir is essential—even if internalized!

Action in a memoir usually happens in the usual place—outside the memoir narrator. That is easy to grasp: “The boy ran by.”

When you use flashback scenes in which you remember someone and what they did way back then—these are not interiorized actions, these are memories of actual actions.

What can be less easy to grasp is that action in a memoir can be internal to the character, happening in the character’s mind.

“Interiorized action” is action that exists only in the character’s mind. It is often used for anticipation, suspense, or foreshadowing.  You can create scenes in which you fantasizes what something might be like—you can play scenarios out. These are not flashbacks but interiorized, internalized action. Let me make an example up of an action in a memoir that is internal. In this example, I have written about not studying sufficiently as an eighth grader for an oral report. Here goes:

An example of an internalized action in a memoir

“That morning, I awoke with the thought of standing in front of the class, and Mrs. Snodgrass asking me to deliver my oral report. I would stand there next to her desk and look out at my classmates. They would be smiling as if they knew I could not remember a word. I searched every nook and cranny of my mind but could not come up with a word. Mr. Snodgrass, adjusting her butterfly glasses, would say impatiently, ‘We are ready, George,’ and I would have to turn to her. ‘Mrs. Snodgrass,’ I would say, ‘I can’t remember a word.’ The boys and girls would laugh. Mrs. Snodgrass would say dismissively, ‘George, I can’t give you a passing grade. The worst part is I’ll have you again in the eighth grade next year.’ “

In this above example, the whole classroom scene is not happening anywhere but in the mind of the character. It never happened in real life. It is an expression of anxiety (–perhaps well-merited anxiety!) Instead of saying, “I was worried that the lack of study would catch up with me, the author has presented an imagined scene with an action. This sort of interiorized action can be used frequently in a memoir. It is important not to make memories up however but it is entirely possible that the writer could remember having had the very fantasy I create above. Forty years later, the author may fill the action in a memoir out a bit but the reader will probably forgive him.

We all remember imaginary scenes where our worst fantasies were played out. These reveal character. It is effective to show these in action in a memoir rather than in vague words: “I was worried.”

What has your use of interiorized, internalized  action in a memoir been like?

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