You have been thinking about writing your memoir for a long time. Maybe you’ve had some wild experiences and want to tell the story of exploits, or maybe you are researching your family history and want to chronicle your journey and discoveries. Maybe you have experienced a life-changing event like the loss of a loved one or an identity transition, or maybe you have lived through extraordinary—and devastating—events and have come out whole on the other side. For all of these reasons and more, we feel compelled to tell our stories, to share our life experience and pass on the wisdom that we have gained or are still trying to find…
This course will benefit memoir writers at any stage, from inception to pre-publication. Whether you have ideas, notes, chapters, heck, maybe a whole manuscript, but you’re not sure how to put it all together or give it that last finishing touch, this is the course for you.
We will take a deep dive into the process of writing memoir, from defining what memoir is to uncovering its secrets of character, theme and plot. We will learn how to look beyond chronological events to write vivid scenes and draw out themes that resonate with the reader. We will reveal the hidden narrative structures of different memoir sub-genres to find the best shape for your story. Whether you’re looking to write a book for your family or aspire to publication, this course will give you the tools to bring your story to life.
Weekly writing exercises will prompt students to develop existing work as well as generate new work in this course.
Readings (excerpts from):
1. H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
2. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
3. Becoming by Michelle Obama
4. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
5. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Types of Feedback:
Instructor will give individualized feedback and students will give peer feedback on workshop pieces.
WEEK 1: Why Memoir? The first week we’ll discuss memoir as a genre and why we’re compelled to read and write in this form. We’ll talk about different subgenres of memoir—the coming-of-age story, the “life-well-lived,” the “escape from Alcatraz” and so forth. Students will discuss their own memoir projects.
WEEK 2: Character. How do you write a three-dimensional protagonist that is—yourself? This week we’ll talk about how to approach the task of creating well-rounded characters based on real people and how to differentiate yourself from the character “you” on the page. We’ll talk about the ethics of memoir and deciding when to fictionalize and when to tell the ugly truth.
WEEK 3: Theme. The most important structural element of memoir is theme. It’s what turns a list of life events into a journey that will resonate with the reader. In memoir, theme drives the plot. This week we will learn how to draw out themes to create momentum that will keep the reader turning pages.
WEEK 4: Structure. When we write about our lives, we usually begin at the beginning. This might be the best way to write your story, but to draw readers in, you need to know how to play with time, create suspense, and effectively use flashbacks and flashforwards to give readers a sense of time as it is lived. This week we will play with time in our narratives to see how these techniques can highlight important events and keep the narrative flowing smoothly.
WEEK 5: Revising and Editing. One of the greatest challenges of writing a memoir is deciding which of your life experiences contribute most to the story. Even if you’ve described a crazy road-trip of “Fear and Loathing” proportions, it won’t interest the reader (and may end up boring them) if it does not compellingly tie into the memoir’s themes, show character growth, propel the plot forward, and prompt the reader to reflect on their own experience. This week we’ll learn how to make those decisions, even if it means axing our favorite anecdotes.