Many writers confuse memoir writing with writing their autobiography. In an autobiography, a writer is able to write about their entire life. However, a memoir generally focuses on a specific time period to bring some sort of thematic significance to their lives that might benefit others.
Often memoir writers struggle with what parts of their life to put into the memoir and what parts to leave out. The following exercise may help.
To complete this exercise, you'll first create a Plot Planner template on a piece of paper to look like page 118-119 in Blockbuster Plots Pure & Simple. If you do not have the book and have not participated in a workshop, then follow the directions below.
Creating a Plot Planner
- Place a piece of 8 1/2" X 11" paper in front of you with the 11" side nearest to you.
Fold the piece of paper in half and then again in half so you end up with four equal parts.
- Spread open the paper. Draw a line from the top to bottom of the first and last fold, leaving the middle fold blank.
- To create the Plot Planner template, draw a line that begins an inch or two from the bottom left hand corner and that rises at about a 45 degree angle to the first paper fold, make a dot, and stop. Above this dot, write ~~ End of the Beginning.
- Next, drop down about 1" from where you left off and draw another line that steadily rises and, about 1" before you hit the next fold line, make a dot and then continue the line down at about a 45 degree angle that cuts through the last fold line. Above this second dot, write ~~ Crisis.
- At about 1/2" on the other side of the last fold line, start the line back upwards again, only this time at a sharper angle that peaks about 1/2 from the end of the paper.
- Draw a dot and label that dot ~~ Climax.
- Drop the line so it only runs about 1" and make the last dot. Label this final dot ~~ Resolution.
Memoir Writer Exercise
- Divide the age you are today by four.
- Using the Plot Planner template you created, put the age you were 1/4 of the way through your life at the End of the Beginning dot. For example: if you are 48, at the 1/4 mark, you were 12 years old. Mark that on your Plot Planner (PP).
- At the Crisis dot, put the age you were 3/4 of the way through your life. With the example above, you would put 36.
- At the Resolution dot, put the age you are today. For our example, that would be 48. This PP represents your entire life. Think about what was going on for you at each of these points in your life.
- Now, analyze your life with the help of the PP and think about what parts of your life are the most "showing" of what you most wish to communicate through the writing of your memoir.
- Next, create another PP, this time, keeping in mind the four most critical scenes ~~ the End of the Beginning, the Crisis, the Climax, and the Resolution. Pull the parts of your life that will best show the deeper meaning of your life experiences and support the universal story form. Plot those ideas out on the PP and you've got the beginning outline of your memoir.
Memoir Writers Resources
Plot interviews with two memorists and upcoming eBook for Memoir Writers
Also, read plot interviews with best-selling memoir writer and photographer, Shreve Stockton, author of Daily Coyote: A Story of Love, Survival, and Trust in the Wilds of Wyoming, award-winning author, Luisa Adams, author of Woven of Water, and Linda Joy Myers Ph.D., author of Don't Call Me Mother and The Power of Memoir: Write Your Healing Story, and founder of National Association of Memoir Writers as each shares her insights into the writing process with a focus on plot.