A lot of writers, as well as average people, feel something in their lives could benefit other people. It may be something tragic, miraculous, exciting, or entertaining. It may be someone famous they knew. Something historically important they did. It may be that they just lived unlike anyone else they know.
I consider my life pretty average. Most people feel the same way, even if its only normal for them. However,the best memoir's aren't written by the out-of-the-ordinary. Most Memoirs change lives because the average reader can picture themselves in the ordinary life of an average person who learns an out-of-the-ordinary lesson in an exceptional way.
That's a mouthful, but its true. If you want to tell your story but you can't find your way through the ordinary memories to a manuscript of your memoir, maybe I can help.
-1.Your true story must have an arc: An arc is the frame work of your story. Perhaps you feel you already have an arc, after all you lived it. The problem is: where do you start? Which memories are important to you and which are going to keep your reader turning pages? Where do you end?
Even if you can answer these questions, do you know which to summarize and which to detail? Do you know how much of your emotion about your life is enough and how much is you coming off as a victim?
I didn't know any of these things. I've got lots of sad, funny, miraculous, and devastating experiences...at least for me. How was I going to figure out how to whittle it down?
-2. Start with a Desire Line: What is a desire line?
Your story isn't going to start on the day you were born, unless your birth is significant to your desire line. You must find out what you wanted more than anything else when your interesting/out-of-the-ordinary story began. This isn't what you accomplished when the story was over. This was your pleasant, ordinary, it-works-for-me belief system.
This is harder than you think. You must avoid vague, generalities because everyone wants: love, acceptance, peace, happiness etc. etc.
Your desire line needs to be specific to your story. Finding your desire line can't be whipped out in an hour long writing session. It takes internal canalization and you will have to try out a few before you discover your inner truth. I worked my desire line from "I want to be seen as more than a sick person" to "I want to do what everyone thinks I can't" before I settled on "I want my body to be healed."
I'm not finished. I can feel I'm close, but in an arc the emotional barriers are more important than the physical ones. As you lay out your arc you will discover what your desire line truly is.
3. Lay out the beats: Once you're working with a desire line you feel is accurate, its time to construct the actual beats of your story. The biggest mistake you can make here is to have either emotional beats with no action, or action beats with no emotion.
The first beat of your story will go: I -my desire line- by doing -action-. While -action- happened I -emotion- and -succeeded or failed-
the next beat will follow this pattern, until you've arrived at the end of your story. The end occurs when you either achieve your desire line, no longer want your desire line, or discover your original desire has turned to a new desire. It is not the end of your life, otherwise someone else is writing your story. It is only the shift to success, failure, or change of desire.
Let me give you an example-
If my desire line is to find true love with someone who sees my potential instead of my flaws then it would go something like this
Beat 1- "Who cares if your blind. No one treats you like this because you are worth more," he said.
I was running thoughts of slashing her tires and calling the ACLU through my head as my friend's car left me in the empty parking lot. Yeah, I was a big girl and I'd survive just fine for the next few hours inside the diner alone. Seriously though, who leaves a blind lady in a strange place far from home, in the middle of the night.
His words struck me as if I'd tripped over the curb instead of sat beside him. She was his girlfriend, he wasn't defending her. I was just some blind girl. "Who cares if you're blind..." his words echoed in my head. I thought everyone did.
beat 2- I held the bottle of Ruby Red Grapefruit juice in my hand, peeling the label and trying not to smile. He'd brought me the juice on his way home from work tonight, I still stood in the damp grass while my room mate said goodbye to him in the driveway. He'd brought her a Coke too, "just thinking about y'all," he'd said.
Beat 3- "Let's go climb Angel's Landing. I need to tell you something."
Oh no," I thought. "This won't be good. He'll have to help me the whole time, It's a narrow switch back trail. "Don't look so excited," he said with a laugh. "You can do it, and if all else fails, I'll hold your hand."
Chronologically these are the events, in the order they happened. Can you see which one isn't needed? The arc of the story will help you narrow down what is important and what's not. the beats will build an actual story and your desire line will show you what is important to the main thread of working toward your desire line's completion.
It was recommended to me to write each beat on a separate 3x5 card and then spread them out and look at what's missing and what's extra. This is very visual and doesn't work for me so I use a spread sheet instead.
I have three cells the first being the action, the second the emotion and the third being whether I'm getting closer to, moving away from, or changing my desire line.
Once the story is laid out in its beats I can see where the thread has gone, when and where it went off track, and if it wasn't the ending I thought it was.
I'm still working on turning my memories into my memoir. I'm not sure I have enough action in my life to balance out my analytical mind. too much internal musings and learning makes your story more of a lecture. If too much is focused on all the times you're desire line wasn't achieved then you've got a victim's ballad. Nobody wants to read that.
I haven't figured it out yet but I'm always open to help and suggestions. If you're writing or have written a memoir, please, leave a comment. I'm giving away a free copy of my book "Killing Casanova" to one person who leaves a comment and their e-mail address.
Keep working on your memoir or whatever else you're writing. Someday we'll make memories into memoirs and tell how we became great writers!