Who Cares About Your Life Story? Why the Scope of the Memoir You’re Writing Matters

wtmrnnarrow1I’m going to take the risk of sounding like a jerk.  But I’m not trying to discourage you from writing.  On the contrary, I want you to take the smartest possible approach to writing your memoir – the one most likely to fulfill your personal goals.  So hang in there with me and see if what I have to say makes sense.

Consider for a minute that there are billions of people in the world.  And most people think their own lives are pretty darn interesting.  It’s human nature.  We’re all biased that way.

And most people like to read.  But people also have limited time and energy.  Few people – if any – will read every book ever written.  We’re selective about what we read.  We choose what we expect to enjoy the most.

So if a reader is going to choose to read a broad, chronological account of someone else’s life, chances are, they’ll pick up an autobiography about someone they’ve heard of before.  A celebrity.  An actor, chef, politician.  Maybe the CEO of a multi-billion-dollar company that’s a household name.

The average person doesn’t know why they should care about your life – the house you grew up in, your favorite teacher, your crazy college days, your first career, your second career, your first marriage, your third divorce.  To most people on the planet, you’re a stranger.

But remember, a memoir is different from an autobiography.  It represents a small portion of a person’s life.  A particular period of time, a challenge overcome, a lesson learned.

If you want your memoir to be read by lots of other people who don’t already know you, you’ll have the best chance if you write a memoir and not an autobiography.  Narrow your focus and you’ll broaden your appeal.

summerattiffanyAn Example of Focus in Memoir

For example, you might decide to write an entire memoir about one summer of your life, like Marjorie Hart did in Summer at Tiffany.

As an Iowa college student in 1945, Hart took a summer job at Tiffany’s in New York City and passed the sweltering months going out on the town with handsome young sailors and rubbing elbows with the rich and famous.  Yes, she filled an entire book with tales from one summer of her life – and it’s delightful.  It also attracted many readers among people the author never met.

Why did a memoir about one summer have more appeal than a book about Marjorie Hart’s entire life, from birth to the present?

The audience for a Hart autobiography would be rather small, consisting of her family members and close friends.  They’re the people who love her; they have the most interest in reading about her whole life.

But when Hart went into detail about her whirlwind summer in the big city, she touched on thoughts, feelings and experiences that many readers could relate to.  That’s a memoir.

A Narrower Focus Gives You Freedom!

Here’s how narrowing the focus of your book can actually give you more freedom.  The idea might seem limiting at first, but think of all the details you’ll have to skip over or rush through if you’re trying to cover all the major events of your life in one book.

Besides, your memoir might convey a lot more than just your story.  It might also be a valuable chronicle of history, detailing what it was like in a particular time and place.  Summer at Tiffany, for example, actually does double-duty.  Not only is it an entertaining read, but it also serves as an historical account of young women living and working in New York City in 1945.

wtmrnnarrow2When you focus on one aspect of your life, you can afford to take your time and richly convey details to your reader.  You can delve into your feelings in the moment, and share your insights after the fact.  And when you recall your experiences through all five senses, you deliver a product that resonates with the reader and is not soon forgotten.  These are the kinds of books people want to tell their friends about.

So, in short, you can’t expect legions of perfect strangers to care about your life, from soup to nuts.  But you’ll increase your chances of capturing the interest of strangers with a more specific story, lesson, or message.

Another Good Example

Here’s another example.  We already know that Joe Schmoe doesn’t have a great chance of selling his entire life story to a bunch of readers who’ve never heard of him, and are too busy to care.  But what if Joe Schmoe was diagnosed with a rare, fatal disease – a disease that no one survives for more than a few months – and he defied that illness to live a robust thirty years, post-diagnosis?

Joe has a great story to tell.  Joe’s memoir won’t spend much time on his childhood (unless he was diagnosed as a child).  He won’t talk much about his years following the Grateful Dead on tour (unless it relates somehow to his disease – maybe the fact that he was able to follow the band, despite doctors’ warnings that he wouldn’t have the energy).  Joe won’t write much about going to law school (except maybe to say that he withstood the pressure despite his disease).

wtmrnnarrow3Joe’s story now appeals to lots of people.  It appeals to people with his disease, and people who love someone with the same disease.  It appeals to anyone with a fatal illness looking for hope or encouragement.  It might appeal to doctors and scientists with an interest in disease.  It might appeal to anyone facing a great trial in life, looking for inspiration in a story of unlikely triumph.

Your Focus Doesn’t Have to Be Earth-Shattering

A memoir can be about more commonplace experiences, too.

Maybe Jane has a great sense of comedy and tells her friends hilarious stories about surviving her divorce.  Jane might have a humorous memoir in her – one that will appeal to millions of other women facing divorce.

Perhaps Anne-Marie had a long history of car trouble, and decided once and for all to become the master of her vehicle.  Maybe she spent three months taking automotive classes and was the only woman in a class of guys at least forty years younger than her.  And maybe Anne-Marie transformed in multiple ways through her experience – not only did she eventually build an engine from the ground up, but she found herself in a love triangle with two handsome young bucks.

That could be a memoir, too.

wtmrnnarrow4EXERCISE: Find Your Focus

So, if you’re going to narrow the focus of your book, how will you decide what the focus will be?

It can seem overwhelming.  But following are some questions you can ask yourself that may help you zero-in on the best idea for you.

  1. What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

 

  1. If you were going to leave a note for your grandchild to open on his or her 18th birthday, containing three key pieces of advice about life, what would you write?

 

  1. Do you ever look around at the greater population and think, “If only they knew what I know”? What do you want them to understand, and how did you come to understand it?

 

  1. Do you ever tell stories to groups of people that keep them riveted, or even make them laugh? Do you ever get requests to “tell that story again”?  What are your most popular stories, and why do you think people want to hear them?  Do most of these stories have something in common?

 

  1. Are you able to complete this sentence?: My life was never the same after ______.

 

  1. What are you an expert in?

 

  1. What was the single biggest turning point in your life?

 

  1. What’s the most unusual situation you ever found yourself in? How did you adjust to or cope with it?

 

  1. What’s your favorite memory? What about that memory is so special?  What about that memory do you think other people would relate to?

 

  1. How have you changed the most?

 

  1. How can your life experience help other people?

 

  1. Did you play a role in a major historical event? What was your role?  How did it affect your life afterward?

 

  1. What one thing are you most proud of in your life so far?

 

  1. What’s one thing most people have difficulty with, but that you were able to master?

 

  1. Did you ever say to yourself, “From now on, I’m living my life differently”? Did you stay true to your word?

 

  1. Most of us have moments when we sigh and say, “Ah, those were the good old days.” When were your good old days?  What’s the one event that, in your mind, defines those days as “good”?

 

  1. Did you achieve something that took immense patience and dedication? How did you get through it?

 

  1. Did you make it to the top of your profession? How did you get there?  What was it like when you finally got to the top?  Was it everything you thought it would be?

 

  1. Can you complete this sentence?: Most people would never believe this about me, but I ______.

 

  1. When have you completely surprised yourself?

 

If you’ve been thinking hard, chances are you’ve identified several areas of your life that could translate into separate memoirs.  If this is the case, don’t let it overwhelm you.  Don’t tell yourself, “I’ll never be able to choose one narrow focus!”  Here’s what I want you to remember: you can always write another memoir about another subject.  Remember that many authors have written several memoirs.  Look at Josh Kilmer-Purcell.  His first memoir, I Am Not Myself These Days, was about his days as a drag queen.  He’s also the author of The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir.

If you’re having trouble choosing a focus, remember that your writing career doesn’t have to end with this one book.  Just decide which focus is calling to you most strongly right now.  Start there.  Write that memoir first.

To get one-on-one help with your memoir, request a coaching session by phone

Kim Brittingham is the author of Write That Memoir Right Now (AudioGo/Blackstone, 2013) and Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large (Random House, 2011). 

 

Memoir Writing: Which Stories to Tell & Which to Leave Out

salim73So you’re writing a memoir, and maybe you’ve begun to feel overwhelmed. Your life is just so…big, right? You’ve experienced years and years worth of stuff. You can’t possibly write about all of it, because you’d be spending the rest of your life in front of a computer. Some stories you definitely want to include, but others will have to be left out.

With so much material to choose from, how can you possibly decide?

Let your theme be your guide.

Many memoirs have an overarching theme, and it’s a good idea to keep yours in mind when you’re writing. Not only can it help you decide which stories to tell and which to leave out, but it can also help keep you from wandering off on writing tangents that don’t really belong in your memoir.

What is a Theme, Exactly?

Think of a memoir as a necklace – say, a string of pearls. Each pearl is a story from your life.  Those stories are strung together on a ribbon or a chain. Think of that chain as your theme.

You could potentially tell thousands of stories about things that happened to you in your life, but if the theme of your memoir is conquering cancer, you probably don’t need to tell the story about your first slow dance in the sixth grade – unless it has some bearing on your battle with cancer.

How Themes Show Up

Don’t know what your memoir’s central theme is? That’s O.K. Typically, a memoir’s theme will reveal itself after you’ve started writing.  In fact, once you get clear about what “theme” is, I urge you to promptly forget about it.  At least for a little while.

Themes are often unconscious. They bubble up in the back of your mind while you’re busy with storytelling. A theme shouldn’t be over-thought.

But you should also keep in mind that many memoirs, if you look at them closely, have more than one theme lingering just beneath the surface. Some themes might appear in some chapters but not in others, ebbing and flowing throughout the pages of the book. Nevertheless, there should be one major theme that ties all of your anecdotes together.

memoir-plantThink about a gardener planting a seed.  The gardener tucks the seed safely under a layer of moist soil, then leaves it alone. Sure, he’s always there in the background, making sure the ground is watered and gets plenty of sun. But he doesn’t go outside and poke at the ground ten times a day, looking for signs of life. At least not if he wants to grow a healthy plant.

Consider this blog post the sunshine and rain your theme needs to be stirred into a seedling, and then into a robust, blooming plant. Read it, understand it, then let your theme be urged to the surface gently, in its own good time.

That said, keep an eye out for those hints of green emerging from the soil. If something like a theme strikes you while writing, or even while washing the dishes or driving to the supermarket, simply notice it.

Examples of “Theme” in Memoir

Here are a few:

  • Abandonment is something you never get over
  • American women sacrifice their happiness to body image concerns
  • You can’t stop change
  • A sense of community is disappearing from our towns and cities
  • Determination is admirable but it can also kill you
  • Faith heals emotional wounds
  • Denial leads to eventual unhappiness
  • No matter how wide the generation gap, music can bring people together
  • Heroes are an example to our children
  • Immigrants are hard-working people
  • A jealous spouse leads to an unhappy marriage
  • Peer pressure helps shape who we are, for better or worse
  • Some people will do anything to survive
  • Experiencing war was horrifying, but it made me into a man

death be not proudWant some more specific examples? O.K. Take Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther. In this memoir, Gunther writes about his son, Johnny, who died of a brain tumor at the age of seventeen. Johnny endured multiple surgeries and great discomfort during the fifteen months between his diagnosis and death. However, he was a brave kid. Despite the difficulties he faced, Johnny continued to engage enthusiastically with life, all throughout his illness. He continued to socialize, kept up with his schoolwork, and remained intellectually curious. And he was mindful of keeping his fears to himself in order to spare the feelings of others.

I’d say the main theme of this memoir is facing death with courage.

However, you could also argue for some additional themes in Death Be Not Proud. For example, you could also say this memoir is about relishing life. Johnny had a deep interest in science and never stopped engaging his brain with the wonders of the world around him – even when that brain harbored disease. He continued with his scientific experiments throughout his illness. He didn’t fear dying so much as he feared not living – because he loved the experience of life so much.

We could identify yet another theme in Death Be Not Proud: childhood versus manhood. As Johnny faces his illness and impending death, he is described by his father as existing somewhere between childhood and manhood. In one way, at the age of seventeen, Johnny is between childhood and manhood. In another way, Johnny continues to love life with the guilelessness of a child, yet he rapidly develops an elegant maturity in dealing with his circumstances.

So, we have a pretty clear overarching theme here: facing death with courage, but interwoven in Johnny’s story are the additional themes of love of life and existing somewhere between childhood and manhood.

Exercise: Inviting Your Theme to Identify Itself

The next time you have a quiet moment, sit and think about the memoir you want to write. Visualize it in your mind as though you’re watching a movie. Keep a pad of paper and a pen in your lap while you do this. If it helps to close your eyes, go for it. If you associate certain songs with key moments in your life, listen to them while you do this exercise. Imagine they are the soundtrack of your memoir-movie.

On that movie screen in your imagination, what images do you see? What bits of dialogue do you hear? Who are the characters on-screen? What’s going on?

Without breaking your stride too much, jot down a word or two that will help you recall these images later. You might even be clever enough to do this without opening your eyes.

Next, look at your notes and ask yourself, what stories do these images, snippets of dialogue,  and characters represent? What is this “movie” about? Write down your answers.

Now, look over everything you’ve written. Do you see certain themes emerging again and again?

What themes keep coming up in your stories over and over?

If you see the same (or related) themes repeatedly, there’s a good chance those will be the main themes of your memoir. But keep an open mind, because after you actually start writing, other, stronger themes may emerge.

Later, when the first draft of your manuscript is finished, you’ll begin the editing process. At that point, you may want to look for stories in your manuscript that have no connection with your main themes. You may find they don’t gel with the rest of the book. That’s a good indicator that those stories should get cut and maybe saved for a future memoir.

To get one-on-one help with your memoir, request a coaching session by phone

Kim Brittingham is the author of Write That Memoir Right Now (AudioGo/Blackstone, 2013) and Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large (Random House, 2011). 

Your Self-Published Self-Help Book: Dead on Arrival?

help 1Are you planning to self-publish your self-help or how-to book?

Good for you! I applaud your gumption, and I want to see you succeed. Really. I’m a big sap and I always prefer the happy ending.

As a ghostwriter/writing coach, I see a lot of non-fiction book manuscripts in-the-rough, and I recognize certain missteps that would-be authors make time and again. They’re the kinds of mistakes that cause a reader to cast aside a book before they finish it, or forget about it promptly when they do finish.

Below, I share three. Take these into consideration and trust me, your manuscript will be better. (And if you still end up needing my help, you’ll make my job a lot easier!)

1. Failure to Define Terms.

Sometimes your intimacy with your subject can get in the way of teaching a clear lesson. You know this stuff so well, you forget that we, your readers, don’t.

For example, let’s say you’re a computer guy writing a starter manual for seniors on how to use the Internet. If you were to open Chapter One with the instruction, “Open your browser”, I’d have to stop you right there. Sure, you know what a “browser” is, but does the person who’s never used a computer?

Having an editor or even another skilled writer read your manuscript can help you identify places where you’ve taken the reader’s understanding for granted. It can also be helpful to get feedback from a friend who knows nothing about the subject and may also qualify as your “target reader” — that is, the type of person for whom you’re writing the book.

help 22. Sharing Lots of Examples and Anecdotes, But None of Your Own.

Some writers come to me understanding that the points they’re making are clearer and more convincing when they include examples and anecdotes. Too often, however, I see manuscripts peppered with other people’s stories, but no reference to the author’s experience.

In the self-help genre, it’s particularly important to establish your authority. As readers, we want to know why we should take this advice from you. How did you come to learn so much about the subject?

Let’s say you’re writing a book about how to use the Law of Attraction to get a job. As readers, we want to know that you have successfully attracted a job. Or if you’re writing about surviving divorce, we need to know that you’ve been in the trenches and crawled out alive.

Tell us your stories. Let us into your world and we’ll let you into our hearts. That’s the kind of book that gets read and talked about. That’s a book that changes lives.

As you read this, you may be reflecting on self-help books you’ve read that didn’t delve much into the writer’s experience. Yes, those books are out there. But they seldom make a real impact – either on readers’ lives, or on the author’s platform, pocketbook or legacy.

Think about this: if a stranger is going to convince you to approach your life differently, would you rather hear it delivered robotically from behind a podium, by the light of a PowerPoint projection — or from across a small table, where the stranger speaks directly to you, looks you in the eye, confesses his frailties and slip-ups – and then reveals his survival secrets?

Most people prefer the latter. That’s a voice they can trust.

So bring your stupid mistakes, your moments of terror, your prat falls, your misunderstandings, your revelations, and your triumphs. Anything else is just blah, blah, blah.

3. Using a Too-Formal Tone and Big Words.help 3

If you’re writing a book to “look smart”, then I suggest you write something on quantum physics and do it for the highest high-brow journal you can find.

For all other subjects, stick with a conversational tone.

When humans read, we “hear” the words in our heads. You’re reading this right now. And it’s almost like I’m speaking inside your brain, isn’t it? You’ve given me a voice and you can “hear” me.

Remember that when you’re writing.

Imagine yourself sitting on a park bench with your reader. In that setting, would you speak formally and break out the big vocabulary? Maybe you would, but your new friend might suddenly remember he has an appointment. Waaaay across town.

You’d be boring.

But not just boring. You’d also be difficult to listen to. Instead of simply hearing your story, your listener would have to work harder to understand you, and perhaps listen more closely, than they would if you were using everyday language.

Using a conversational tone when writing self-help or how-to isn’t dumbing things down. It’s a smart thing to do. You’re allowing your reader to relax and simply take in your words. A relaxed mind more readily accepts new information. If you’re trying to persuade your reader to think, feel or behave differently in some area of life, then their relaxed brain will be more suggestible, and you’re more likely to have the impact you want.

Reading — when it’s good — puts us into a trance. Like when we get “lost” in a novel and the room around us disappears. Complex language and “big” or uncommon terms yank the reader out of her trance. Suddenly, she’s back in her living room, wondering, “What does ‘paronymous’ mean?”

When passing on life lessons via self-published book, it’s important to make a quick connection with your reader — and most readers will likely be total strangers. So how does that work?

By being honest and open, and letting your vulnerabilities show; by addressing your reader like a friend, and remembering what it was like to be at the beginning of your own journey, without the benefit of today’s wisdom.

To get one-on-one help with your book, request a coaching session by phone

Kim Brittingham is the author of Write That Memoir Right Now (AudioGo/Blackstone, 2013) and Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large (Random House, 2011). 

WIN! A Paperblanks Journal for Your Most Beautiful Memories

paperblanksWriting a memoir requires writing down your memories.  A lot of that can be done in any utilitarian notebook, pad or Word document.  But some memories might stand out as more special than others.

Those, you might want to record in a prettier volume, taking time to savor the memory as you apply it to the page, maybe curling up on a blanket under your favorite willow tree on a river bank, or sinking into a comfy old Adirondack chair on the porch or in a sumptuous chaise by the fire.

For particular memories, you might want an extra-special journal.  Something gorgeous, from Paperblanks.

And now — lucky you! — you have the chance to win a Paperblanks journal from Write That Memoir Right Now.

We’re giving away three hardcover journals — one to each of three winners.

One recipient will receive the 7″ x 9″ “Brocaded Paper – Golden Fuchsia Ultra” journal;

one will receive the 5″ x 7″ “French Ornate – Violet 2011 Midi“,

and one will receive the 5″ x 7” “Lyon Florals — Filigree Floral Ivory Midi“.

Want to get a good look at these, and the other journals offered by Paperblanks?  Visit here.

So how can you enter to win? 

Like Write That Memoir Right Now on Facebook by midnight, EST on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.  (That means, go to our Facebook page and click the “Like” button.) NOTE: Only new “likes” made between April 9 – May 1, 2013 will qualify for the drawing.

Three winners will be selected at random.  Winners will be contacted via Facebook.  We must receive a reply including your shipping address no later than midnight EST on May 22, 2013.  If we don’t hear from you, another winner will be selected.

Good luck, authors!

Are All Memoirs Written in the “First Person”? Not Necessarily.

Are all memoirs written in first person? Not necessarily. When it comes to writing a memoir, why bother discussing point of view? After all, aren’t all memoirs written from the first person point of view?

Not necessarily.

In most cases, yes — memoir does tend to be written from the first person point of view.  This is the POV of “I”.  “I climbed onto the motorcycle.  I put my arms around Joe’s waist.  I gulped as the bike lurched forward.”  First person is all about the person telling the story – the narrator.

Here’s an example of a memoir written in first person.  This is the opening of The Sweeter the Juice: A Family Memoir in Black and White by Shrilee Taylor Haizlip:

Sometimes I look at people and wonder if they are related to me.  I do this in public places and private spaces.  There I am, in airport terminals, and train stations, on ballroom floors and sandy beaches, studying people who might be my relatives. 

Not only does first person make sense for memoir, but it makes for the most intimate possible experience for the reader.  When you write in first person, you have the best chance of making your reader feel like they’re in the room with you – or sitting next to you in the cockpit, or huddled against you in the storm cellar.

Compare that to a story told from the third person point of view: “April climbed onto the motorcycle.  She put her arms around Joe’s waist.  She gulped as the bike lurched forward.”

With the third person point of view, you’re describing to the reader what’s happening in a scene.  You and the reader are watching events together, from the outside.  This point of view feels a degree or two removed from the action, and as a result, it can come across as less “personal” than first person.

It might seem like the third person point of view has no place in a memoir, but actually, some memoirists have used it creatively and with success.  I’ll give you an example.  In one scene in The Men in My Country by Marilyn Abildskov, she uses the third person point of view to recall a memory of herself as though she is watching a stranger in action.  Here’s a passage:

One night he is supposed to call at 6 P.M., which he does, but she doesn’t get the message until an hour later when she is immersed in a class at the ABC School, filling in for a teacher who failed to show.

            When she calls him at seven, there’s no answer at his place.  So she calls again at eight, then at nine, and again at ten.  Finally, before midnight, he answers his phone, sounding angry and maybe a little drunk.

            So you don’t want to get together? the woman asks, disappointed that he’s not as eager to see her as he is to see him.  All she wanted that night was to hear his voice.  Now that she has his voice, his voice in her ear, it isn’t enough.  Whatever she has, she will always want more.  The stakes go up.  This is her way of life.  Her way of love.  She wants to see him, even if it’s only for a few minutes, just to say goodnight.  And if she sees him?  She will want to touch him.  And then?

It’s important to note that most of Abildskov’s memoir is written in the first person, which is typical.  However, in this particular scene, she uses the third person.  Why?  It’s an act of artistry.  In my opinion, she’s doing it to help us sense how she now feels about that woman she’s remembering – as if she’s a different person.  Haven’t you ever looked back on something you did or said as a younger person and thought, Who was that girl/guy?  An earlier, less wise version of yourself can feel like a stranger.  If you’ve changed significantly in your life, recalling something you did in the past can almost feel like watching a play or a movie.  I believe Abildskov was using the third person as a device to help us understand how distanced she feels from that once desperate woman.

Then, there’s the god-like omniscient point of view.  I say “god-like” because it’s the only point of view that knows all and sees all, as only a god could.

If you’re writing in the omniscient point of view, you can describe what April was thinking as she sped away on the motorcycle.  You can also tell us what Joe was thinking when April put her arms around him. You know how the weather’s going to change a mile down the road, and you can hint at it to the reader using foreshadowing – even if the characters have no idea they’re headed for rain.

Writing in the omniscient point of view can feel empowering.  It can feel magical.  There are no limits.

wtmrn4On the downside, however, a reader of the omniscient point of view can sometimes struggle to make an emotional connection with any one character.  It’s a lonely business, being a god.  And when you share with your reader all that god-like knowledge, you risk imparting a sense of loneliness – a separateness from your characters.

Finally, there’s something called the second person point of view.  I’ve saved it for last because it’s the least commonly used POV – probably because it’s so difficult to pull off.  Second person is what I call the point of view of “you”.  Let me show you the second person in action first before I explain it:

You start the first day of school with such high expectations.  You think this’ll be the year when you finally break out, make your mark, achieve popularity.  You never set out to have the most miserable year of your life.

I just made up that passage.  It could’ve been an excerpt from a memoir, written by a real person about their real life; or, it could’ve been the voice of a make-believe character in a novel.  Either way, you’d still call it the second person POV.

Notice the use of “you”?  With second person, the narrator is talking about his or herself, but using the word “you”.  I know, sounds complicated.  Think of it this way: have you ever heard someone use second person in conversation?  At some point, you may have done it yourself.

Imagine you just came from the Department of Motor Vehicles.  You’re meeting your friend Lois for lunch.  You approach Lois who’s sitting waiting for you at a coffee shop table, and you say:

“Y’know, you can call ahead to the DMV and you can ask all the right questions.  You can find out exactly what you need to bring and who to see.  You can even get there early and wait in line at the front door.  But somehow, you always end up getting the run-around.”

You just spoke using the second person point of view.

Sure, you said “you” to Lois – but you were actually talking about your own experience, not hers.

Back to memoir.  Does anyone ever use the second person “you” point of view in memoir?  It’s rare, but it’s been done.  You might be hard-pressed to find an entire memoir written in second person (I can’t think of any), but you will occasionally spot it within a first person memoir.

Let’s open Marilyn Abildskov’s The Men in My Country again.  We’ve already seen how she used the third person point of view to help create a sense of distance between herself as the more experienced narrator, and herself at an earlier time.  Now, here’s an example from the same book in which Abildskov slips in a little second person POV:

At school they write messages on the bottom of composition books, little lost boats you have the urge to keep and save.  KEEP OO JAMMIN in all caps.  Or questions that sail in on paper scraps, tiny letters in bottles that sail across the sea.  Do Marilyn-sensei like Guns and Roses? A little, you lie. You believe in kindness over honesty.

Did you spot it?  The second person point of view?  The point of view of “you”?  It’s in the very last line of the passage:

A little, you lie. You believe in kindness over honesty.

You lie.  You believe in kindness over honesty.

The person who actually did the little-white-lying in this scene is the author.  But she says it conversationally, as if to suggest that this is what anyone would do – what you might do in the same situation.

So while chances are excellent that your memoir will be written in the first person point of view, there are certainly ways that other points of view can be useful.  I recommend starting out in the first person, and see if you lapse into another POV somewhere down the line.  Instead of automatically correcting it, you might step back and ask yourself if a small portion might actually be served by using another point of view in an artistic way.

To get one-on-one help with your memoir, request a coaching session by phone

Kim Brittingham is the author of Write That Memoir Right Now (AudioGo/Blackstone, 2013) and Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large (Random House, 2011). 

Featured Author: Deborah L. Parker

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Your journey.  The road you’re on.  Following your chosen path.

Do these metaphors sometimes describe your outlook on life’s evolving Parker Covercircumstances?  And we don’t embark on just one road, path or journey — we travel many, and in multiple directions, each unfolding maps that define our unique stories.

In Navigating Life’s Roadways, Deborah L. Parker segments her life’s roads, journeys and paths into narratives revealing an insightful and inspirational personal odyssey.

Parker’s chronicles begin in her rural hometown in Virginia during the 1960s Civil Rights era.  She steers you through the battles and triumphs of her college years, Army and private sector careers, and current ownership of a leadership training firm.

Parker PhotoIf you’re trying to decide what to do with the debris and gems we tend to pick up along life’s roadways, Parker guides you.  You will relate to the allegories of her treks through headwinds and tailwinds of family, career, fun, health and relationships.  Although your details and dilemmas may differ, Parker encourages you to push on.

Navigating Life’s Roadways is available in print and as an ebook.  Learn more here.

Announcing the Winners: Write That Memoir Right Now Audiobook on CD

Congratulations to Sarah P. and Nena B.!  They’ve each won an audiobook of Write That Memoir Right Now on CD!

Best of luck on your writing projects, ladies.

Another giveaway is coming this month.  Stay tuned — subscribe to the blog!  Follow the instructions at the top of the right-hand sidebar, titled “Follow This Blog Via E-mail”.

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