Memoir

Memoirists face two essential tasks: First, to craft the episodic story of what happened in the past, and second, to reveal the story of one’s own change and growth over time. That second story is where the author’s larger message is conveyed, elevating one person’s experience from the unique and personal to the universal and shared. It reveals what your story is about. But how do we extract that deeper message from a story, and articulate it to readers in a meaningful way?

Weekend July 14 to July 15 2018

T.S. Eliot once said, “Every moment is a fresh beginning.” In storytelling, this couldn’t be more true as we face new moments and fresh beginnings over and over whenever we start a new story, a new chapter, or even a new scene. And fresh beginnings mean questions. Where should this novel begin, with a prologue or in medias res? How should I open my memoir? Where should this next chapter or scene pick up to smoothly transition from the scene before it?

Weekend July 14 to July 15 2018

We all lead multiple lives, so no wonder it’s difficult to write a single memoir. And when our own lives are the subject, we have far too many subsidiary characters and subplots and know way too many details about all of them. This makes wrestling our memories into coherent literary form a bit like trying to organize an overstuffed closet, except in literature we don’t have plastic tubs or garage sales.

 

Annie Dillard famously said, “The writer of any work, and particularly any nonfiction work, must decide two crucial points: what to put in and what to leave out.” If you have a nonfiction or memoir project in progress, you probably agree. But you may be asking: how do I decide? I have all this material, but how do I shape it? Where do I begin and end? Which parts do I put in and which do I leave out?

 

Imagine a story about people who lack depth, or characters who lack emotional lives. Imagine these lusterless characters in hollow dialogue, in a setting so generic it fails to rise even to blandness. Imagine a story that blatantly ignores the richness our senses deliver. Insipid work is what we produce when we don’t utilize five basic tools that unleash soul and spirit into our writing.

Weeklong July 08 to July 13 2018

In this advanced workshop, we will look at our personal narratives in the context of two central elements delineated by writer Vivian Gornick in her classic 2001 text on the art of personal narrative. We will consider the Situation: “the context or circumstance, sometimes plot” and the Story: “the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer: the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say.” In our week together, we will employ these ideas as we develop our own personal narratives.

The experiences we need to write about the most can be the hardest to address. In this workshop, we’ll explore ways of writing about life events that we’re still figuring out. How can you tell a story when you don’t know how it ends? What language can reflect situations that seem impossible to describe? What emerges in emergency?

In an effort to answer the cardinal question of memoir—who cares?—this workshop/seminar zeroes in on what’s most compelling about our life stories. What about you is potentially interesting to others? Can a personal essay stand alone as a complete mini-memoir?

 

Characterization—creating believable and interesting people on the page—is an absolutely essential part of successful fiction writing, and it is equally important to narrative nonfiction forms such as memoir or literary journalism. It is also one of the most complex elements of craft, with many different means of achieving it and quite a few ways in which it can fall short.

Whether writing fiction or narrative nonfiction, you bring to the workbench a wealth of resources—your life experience, reading, language, personality, and imagination. This workshop focuses on writing tools necessary for transforming those resources into either fiction or a nonfiction narrative such as memoir or literary journalism. The cross-over of these techniques between fiction and nonfiction will be a prevailing theme as we examine strong examples in published writing.