What makes for an interesting memoir?
An interesting memoir: drama vs. dramatic development?
Much more important than the inherent drama of an action is the dramatic development of your story.
Let’s say that you want to write into your memoir a scene about your house burning to the ground and your rushing in to get an infant child—your sister, let’s say—and rescuing her from certain death. This is clearly very dramatic. But is it enough to create an interesting memoir?
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Perhaps yes perhaps no.
Here’s what someone may have written into a memoir: in the middle of the night, I awoke to find that the house was burning and I rushed out of bed and went into the room where my two-year-old sister was, grabbed her and ran out of the house. The next hours, I spent looking at the house burning to the ground.
If that is your house-burning scene, you will not get much mileage out of it.
Now let’s say you have not only drama but dramatic development. You have set the reader to expect something. Instead of one mention of the house burning to the ground, you start with a little scene on page 18 in which you see your older brother lighting a fire in the wood stove. He is sloppy and forgets to close the door. Your mother points his neglect out to him and she herself shuts the door. You think about how, one day, he might burn the house down. Then on page 76, you have your mother telling your father that she feels the chimney needs lining as the bricks seem to be disintegrating.
Then on page 121, you have the fire scene. You begin the scene with awakening in the night to flickering lights. You wonder if there is a police car outside with a throbbing light. As you awaken more, you begin to realize that the flickering has no regular pattern as would a police-car light. The flickering is rather irregular. Suddenly, you smell smoke! You shoot out of bed. “Oh my gosh!” you think. The adrenaline is pouring through you. You grab the bathrobe at the foot of your bed and rush down the hall to where your little sister is sleeping. All the while, you are screaming to awaken your parents.
Which treatment will keep you reading?
I doubt you have chosen the first treatment. In treatment two, you have read a more dramatic approach to writing about the fire. It demonstrates how it is not the inherent drama of an action that will create an interesting memoir. It is the development and treatment of the action that makes for interest.