" Life Goes On But Your Memoir Mustn't"

After attending a two-day workshop last week called “Illuminating the Path: Finding Theme and Structure in Your Memoir” with Allyson Latta, I try to sort out my notes, my thoughts and wonder how it all applies to my story.

“Life goes on but your memoir mustn’t”, a quote from Adair Lara in Writer’s Digest, became our mantra and challenge. Where do I start and finish my story? How do I construct the narrative arc of my story?

Should I begin chronologically with my early life on Charles Street then move on to the suburbs and what develops there? Or should I start with the move, flash back to longing for my early life in the rooming house, then move on to the crisis, climax and resolution? Another possibility is to start with moving back to the city for university (in the neighbourhood of Charles Street), then reflect on memories of my early years. I wasn’t planning to write about this period in university but my writing group tend to favour this approach. I had another idea about my life on Charles Street but I think this would work better as a short story, so I will set that option aside.

According to Adair Lara and Tristine Rainer, to figure out the narrative arc, the emotional framework of your memoir, you must figure out ‘the desire line’. What is it that you want? This is what drives the narrative and moves the character to the conclusion. In “Elements of Effective Arc” (Writer's Digest July/August 2010)Adair Lara suggests jotting down a list of actions and obstacles:

I wanted _______________ (the desire line).

To get it I______________ (action).

To get it, I then____________ (action)

But ______________ (obstacle) got in my way.

So, I _____________________ (action).

(And so on.)

When I look at this framework, I think that my over arching desire line was to go home again, ie. to go back to the place where I felt confident and secure. What I need to do now is to examine each scene of my memoir and identify my desire line, actions and obstacles for each step of my journey.

Have you identified your ‘desire line’?

Copyright © 2010, Ruth Zaryski Jackson

The Power of a Family Secret

My personal essay The Power of A Family Secret has now been posted on Allyson Latta's new website. This essay appeared in an earlier version in several blog posts on this site. Please click on the title of my essay or Allyson's name,  have a look and let me know what you think.

Copyright © 2010, Ruth Zaryski Jackson