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A Memoir is About Connections

Every book has a known and an unknown. For a memoir, the unknown is the connections.

Working from a database of what you remember, what you may have previously written down in a journal, or what others may remind you is the raw material of memoir. As such, it may seem like just execution to get it all down.

But what if you took time to think on the page? To dig, not only into why something happened, but what it meant for other times in your life?

The ability to make those connections is what will matter to the reader, not the details of your life. The connections are what connects.

A Disappointing Bag of Chips

Too much flash-forwarding makes for a disappointing bag of chips…you open it to find it is two-thirds air.

The reason is the same in memoir and fiction: every time you jump into the future, you lessen the narrative drive. In real life we don’t know what’s going to happen. We have to endure the drama of the present and try to figure things out then and there.

A flash forward when you are rounding out a theme, strengthening a narrator’s relationship with the reader, making additional connections while hinting that life goes on outside of the immediate frame of the story…great.

Just make sure to limit your flash forwards to preserve proportion, emphasis and momentum.

Your Title Sucks

Okay, maybe it doesn’t. But chances are it does.

Why the harsh tone, Stuart? Because you are so sure it is good. Because you need it to be good, you cling to it like a life raft. Without this title you would drown, or at least be adrift…

It’s okay: you can let go. For one thing, titles change with every draft. Every revision that is honestly undertaken evolves the writer’s perspective on the whole and therefore that whole needs a different title.

If you happen to get the final title before the end of the drafting process, congratulations; it does happen. You’ll know because it continues to check out so often you kind of lose interest in worrying about it, and that worry is replaced by a quietness around it in your mind.

Murderer!

I’m sure by now we all know about William Faulkner’s dictum to “Kill all your darlings.” (And if you aren’t, you can read up on it: here.)

A client gave me this “thank you” for all the words I cut from his manuscript. I’m not going to lie, I was a little creeped out at first.

But then I got into the spirit. Yes, that is part of why you need an editor.

  • Because you repeat material without developing it;
  • Because we got the point 100 words ago;
  • Because what you’re talking about now has no bearing on the subject, even though it might also be true;
  • Because you think you’re being cute but you’re just being annoying;
  • Because the best thing you’ve written in ten pages should get a chance to stand out more fully in relief.

These are some of the answers to the question, When is murder not a crime?