The Making of a Memoir Part 3: It’s All About Structure

Filed in Ask the Editor, Uncategorized, Writing Tips by on February 23, 2018 0 Comments

This is the third and final post in a series all about writing your memoir. You can find helpful tips in the first post about getting started and the second post about brainstorming.

Tangling with structure is about as common a writing problem as you can get. However, when you are writing about your own life it can be even trickier. You are looking at sets of events from the inside, all too close to see them with any different perspective. A single event can be told from lots of angles, but your job is to pluck events that defined your life out of the bevy of simply disconnected happenings. You want the reader to know you, know your story, know your environment, but at the same time you want each event to carry a unifying string that threads them together—unique beads on the same necklace. This is why structuring your memoir is so important: it binds your novel together.

1. Find Your Drive

You should have already chosen your topic as we discussed in the last post of this series, but how do you structure a book around this? Ask yourself one question about the time period you want to write about: what did you want?

  • You want to open your own business even though you are starting from nothing
  • You are searching for a place that feels like home, even though you move foster homes each year
  • You want to travel the world after your spouse’s death

It is the desire for something just out of reach that keeps us going in life, so it makes sense that it is what will propel the action in your memoir. Every scene should use this dream, this want, this goal to connect to the next. Of course, just as in life, what you want should evolve and grow as you do through shifts in understanding, experience, and obstacles. Your main goal will sprout smaller goals that you have to achieve on your way. This will all lead up to your climax and subsequent resolution.

2. Write Your Outline

So now your head might be spinning with events and people from your past, but don’t worry. Creating a simple outline of your book will make sure that your story’s structure makes sense. Start out with the basic events that make up this quest toward what you want, and then fill in any gaps. What made you want this in the first place? What will help the reader relate to this desire? What obstacles did you have to hurdle to get there? Maybe you achieve your main goal, but it comes with unexpected problems; now what do you want?

3. Check out Your Plot

Look at that nice outline you made and check that it has all the basic parts of plot:

  • Exposition
  • Rising action
  • Climax
  • Falling action
  • Resolution

Missing something? Fill it in. Shift some events around until it seems right. Remember, your story doesn’t have to be in chronological order. If a story from your childhood would explain why you reacted so strongly to an event in your forties, feel free to tell it then. Just make sure it flows.

Now you can start writing! Follow your outline and tell your story. Then revise, revise, revise. Have fun!




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About the Author ()

With experience as an English literature teacher and freelance writer, Elaine brings her knack for revision to the editorial team. She started at the University of Central Florida in 2005, and she holds degrees in English Literature and Language Arts Education with an additional minor in writing. As a parenting blogger, she enjoys writing about her adventures with her toddler daughter and husband as they take advantage of living where the rest of the world vacations.

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