Prepared by: Pam Hauck
Posted on: February 2, 2003
Memoirs from Memories
"This is the age of memoir. Never have
personal narratives gushed so
profusely from American soil as in the closing decade of the twentieth
century. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone is telling it."
~William Zinsser ~
Memoirs are first person narratives
composed from the memories of
Merriam-Webster Online defines memoir as:
Pronunciation: 'mem-"wär, -"wor
Etymology: Middle French memoire, from memoire
memory, from Latin memoria
1 : an official note or report : MEMORANDUM
2 a : a narrative composed from personal experience b
: AUTOBIOGRAPHY --
usually used in plural c : BIOGRAPHY
3 a : an account of something noteworthy : REPORT b
plural : the record of
the proceedings of a learned society
The boundaries between memoir and
autobiography are often blurred.
Gore Vidal in his memoir "Palimpsest" writes, "A memoir is how one
remembers one's own life while an autobiography is history, requiring
research, dates, facts double-checked." Autobiographies usually start
with birth and are a chronology of key events up to the present while
memoirs are thematic in nature. Theme is the central underlying point
to your story. It's the message behind the words. Memoirs also differ
from the daily chronology of facts found in diaries, journals, and
blogs. Well-crafted memoirs are stories shaped with a beginning,
middle, and end.
Memoirists borrow techniques from fiction
Barrington, author of "Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art" writes,
"Although the roots of the memoir lie in the realm of personal essay,
the modern literary memoir also has many of the characteristics of
fiction. Moving both backward and forward in time, re-creating
believable dialogue, switching back and forth between scene and
summary, and controlling the pace and tension of the story, the
memoirist keeps her reader engaged by being an adept storyteller. So,
memoir is really a kind of hybrid form with elements of both fiction
and essay, in which the author's voice, musing conversationally on a
true story, is all important."
For further research, you can find the
first chapter of books on
writing memoirs at these URLS:
"Writing the Memoir:
From Truth to Art" by Judith
"You Can Write a Memoir"
by Susan Carol Hauser
Another link on memoirs:
Memoir Project by Mrs.
Part of the challenge in composing memoirs
is deciding which
memories to write about. Look through your old photographs, letters,
and journals for story ideas. Think about places you've lived and
worked. When you get together and reminiscence with family and friends
what stories do you tell?
In 500 words or less, write a memoir in first person singular with a
beginning, middle and end. Use believable dialogue and make us care
about your characters. Tell your story using a distinct, personal
voice. Set the scene using descriptive details and sensory imagery only
you, the writer, could have noticed. Accept the challenge of writing
about your real-life experiences. Be honest and don't make things up.
Remember the differences between writing for yourself and writing for
an audience. Please don't disclose information might later regret.
Let the writer know which elements seemed most real, and which seemed
contrived or fictitious. Was the narrator's voice distinct and
personal? Is the story interesting or memorable? Can you identify a
theme? Remember to critique the work, and not the writer.
Pam Hauck's wrap-up
Posted on: February 10, 2003
Thanks to everyone who participated and
helped make this week's
exercise a success.
We've seen a broad variety of approaches
to writing memoirs. Some
stories were based on childhood memories while others were set later in
life. Some were humorous while others were tragic and sad.
This exercise shows us we can use the many
of the characteristics of
fiction to write about our personal experiences. And hopefully, you've
come to realize how easy it is to create a story from your memories.
Thanks to Rhéal and Pat for helping
me develop this exercise
and the opportunity to present it. I appreciate everyone's response and
wish you all the best with your writing.
Web site created by
Rhéal Nadeau and
the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.