University of Iowa

Finding the Story in Your Life: Narrative in Memoir and Personal Essay

Weeklong June 24 to June 29 2018

One of the most common questions memoir and personal essay writers have is how to structure writing about life experience. An easy answer is to start from the beginning and write down events in chronological order. That can work, but writers of all experience levels know there is more to it—that telling one’s story involves more than a mere list of events. Life writing also must have drama and meaning. This workshop focuses on how narrative—telling a story—can be perhaps one of the most powerful tools for enlivening and exploring one’s life story. The workshop will focus on some of the traditional techniques of narrative—plot, character, dialogue, and so forth—in order to make a memoir or personal essay an engaging read. But we will also explore how story types can help structure a life story in different contexts and patterns in order to discover and convey the meaning intended—or perhaps one the writer never realized was there. Workshop activities will include exercises, discussion of readings, and workshopping participants’ own writing. Participants can either bring previously written work for the workshop or write new material during the week.