Somewhere in the short stories of Voltaire is a woman who claims that everybody who has lived a certain number of years – I think she said forty – has a great life story to tell.
Every life is unique, and everybody negotiates unique events in a unique way. The perspectives we bring to experience and the perspectives created in us by experience give us the raw material for fascinating narratives. We all sprout the seeds for more than one memoir.
But as every novice cook knows, ingredients alone do not inevitably result in a delicious product. Effective memoir, interesting stories, require skill and technique.
A secondary but equally important aspect of the subject of life stories relates to the stories we tell ourselves. How we see the world and our place in it is shaped and colored by our self-concepts and our attitudes. These are as important to our story as the events we survive
All links to this topic are included in the Telling stories category list. See right sidebar.
Moving beyond the monarchs: using personal stories to bring history to life
All personal events take place against the backdrop of history. First-person narratives can give a new dimension to the teaching of history, just as history can illuminate what happened to individuals.
We can’t always make sense of our experiences when they happen, but it’s important to take note of them as soon as we can, while they are still imprinted in our minds. Reflection can come later.
How Andrew Solomon’s memoir of coming out became a completely different story
Writing a memoir can be a voyage of discovery – so much so that you abandon the story you thought you were going to write and end up with another.
Tissot details a turn to a new life in her memoir
A novelist can throw in lots of details for atmosphere. A writer of short stories does not have that luxury; every detail must contribute to the ending. This reviewer takes a story-teller to task for putting in irrelevant details.
The invisible city
Our lives intersect with the history of all the places we inhabit, as well as with the traditions of our families and whatever communities influence us. To be fully dimensioned, the story of our lives should make allowances for those other stories.
Mennonite’s life story doesn’t quite expose the man
Of all the aims of story-telling, the most important is to be interesting enough to make the reader want to stay until the end. The author is free to invent structure, approach, even language, but innovative methods do not always let the whole story shine through.
How to listen
Listening is a too-neglected communication skill. When you are telling somebody else’s story, or when your own story depends on the memories of others, it is crucial to know how to listen to what they say when they bring up the past.
To endure the void: On Rachel Cusk’s “Outline”trilogy
In memoir it is axiomatic that the writer’s feelings and responsive should be more prominent than the events that stimulate them. But here is a trilogy by a writer who is first and foremost an observer – and the method seems to work.
‘World’s Strongest Librarian’ strengthens writing voice in new memoir
Telling an interesting story is only the first part of the memoir formula. Of equal value is the extent to which your narrative can resonate with readers and seem universal, can become a fount of amusement or inspiration that a myriad of readers can mine for their own reasons.
My great grandfather’s memoir: Life in the early 1900s
An artless essay on life a century ago, lovingly reprinted (but not retold) by a modern journalist.