You can break a rule, but you must know the rule, and it must apply to what you are writing. Break a rule very, very carefully.
Every story has a message—a theme.
Before you write the story, think about the message. Can you write the message in one sentence?
Stew over the story—let it cook inside you. Are you passionate about telling the story?
Have courage. Be confident that the story you are telling is important.
Bring emotion into the story through your characters—joy, fear, anger, etc.
The purpose of all writing is to communicate something the writer believes is of importance— to reach an audience, to touch a life, to make a change, to bring an effect.
Keep a journal of your feelings about your life, your circumstances, the people around you. This journal is not a diary of what you ate at lunch, but what happened at lunch in interacting with those who were with you (or not).
All writers struggle in how to tell the story. And once written, will it be good, effective, important? Will anyone enjoy reading it?
You can’t hide what you believe—your world view. Who you are will come through your writing.
Writing is not like a movie, although every movie is based on a script.
Read the newspaper. Read magazines. Read books. Whatever you do, find time to read.
Take apart, analyze what you read—what makes that story good or bad. How did the writer put the story together? What made that character come alive to you? What was wrong with the story? Why didn’t it work? Why were you disappointed in it?
Words used by writers help us to get inside others’ heads, understand ideas, think new thoughts, travel to places we can’t go—forward and backward.
Stories connect us to each other. A book, a story can be a friend when we think we have none. A story can connect us to a friend we can no longer touch or see. We’re never lonely when we read a good story.
A book, a story can teach us how to work, change, help, love, hope, and live useful lives.
"Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind." Rudyard Kipling: speech, February 14, 1923.
"Beneath the rule of men entirely great, The pen is mightier than the sword." Richelieu, 1702.
"A writer’s problem does not change. He himself changes and the world he lives in changes but his problem remains the same. It is always how to write truly and, having found what is true, to project it in such a way that it becomes a part of the experience of the person who reads it." Ernest Hemingway: The Problems of a Writer in War Time.
There are general principles on writing a good story whether it's an autobiography, biography, movie script, TV sitcom, novel of any genre, or short story. A book of poetry has its principles as well. It, too, must include some of the following tips on writing.
Andrea discussing her poetry book PIECES OF STAINED GLASS:
I hope the notes from a writing course I taught in 2013 on "how to" write your memoirs will inspire you to put into practice whatever story you wish to tell.
MEMORIES: How to Write Your Memoirs. by Dr. Andrea MacVicar
"Mem'ries light the corners of my mind. Misty water-colored memories of the way we were. Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind. Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were. Can it be that it was all so simple then? Or has time re-written every line? If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would we? Could we? Mem'ries, may be beautiful and yet, what's too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget. So it's the laughter we will remember, whenever we remember...the way we were." (1973; Bergman & Hamilish)
First session: THEME
"Before pen to paper."
What makes a good story?
Whose story is it? (decisions)?
What do you want to say?
The who, what, where, how, and why of it.
Theme: family philosophy; what do you believe about your life.
what have you overcome?
In your own style.
Second Session: CHARACTERS
Who are the characters in your biography?
(Of course, you.) parents? teachers?
What and how were you influenced?
Depth by details.
What did you have to overcome?
how were you challenged?
Third Session: PLOT
Filing in details.
What’s the right order?; how to put details in order. Chronological? Issues/conflicts?
Is your story finished/accomplished? (This is not about your death.)
Ways to present bio (finished product).
Fourth Session: BUILDING AN ARC
"Don’t gloss over the tough stuff. You have to dive in, come clean, and carry on. It’s a real life and it’s yours. Own it." - Dr. Andrea MacVicar
Write a paragraph describing who you are: attributes, characteristics, personality, what you believe about yourself, what you think (specifics) others believe about you. How did you arrive at your analysis? What happened to make you who you are? How did you get from there to here?
Choose three turning points in your life.
Each turning point with itself has a beginning, a middle, and an end. All turning points must come together in the overall theme of the (your) story (purpose of the writer).
Action and obstacles:
Setting the scene (where, when, with whom).
Remember the dialogue.
Remember the action.
What was the outcome?
What did you learn?
How did you change?
What was the result of that change?
Who, besides you, was affected?
Desire lines (your life as the story); state in one to five sentences: ie, "I wanted to be a model even though I weighed 200 pounds. I almost starved myself to death, but I became a Vogue Model. I learned that beauty is only skin-deep. I learned to love myself…"Keep in mind the theme of who you are: "I learned I am beautiful."
Do not write a “poor me” memoir. The best stories show how human beings (characters) change under pressure, not just the bad things that can happen to people. Readers want to know how the changes in your life (decisions good and bad) changed you. What went on inside you? A memoir is an emotional journey you’re allowing the reader to travel with you.
Describe what you saw.
Describe what you felt.
Describe what you heard.
Describe your failures or successes.
Be honest; be sincere; tell it like it was.
What did you want? What did you hope for?
What got in your way? Did you? If not who did? Why?
Fifth Session: ASKING QUESTIONS
"Write your life as if it’s an action movie." - Dr. Andrea MacVicar
Answer the following questions by describing in one to two pages the following (not necessarily in this order, but as you work at your own speed, your own way):
What was the worst event in your life?
What was the happiest event in your life?
What were you wearing? What did you experience?
What was your greatest accomplishment?
What was the greatest honor you were given?
What were (are) your physical characteristics?
How do you feel about how you look?
How did you choose or find your spouse?
If divorced, why? If widowed or widower, when and how?
If single or now single, how were (are) you affected?
Why did you live where you did?
How did you choose your career? Education? Work?
If you changed or had more than one career, why?
What kind of family issues shaped your philosophy of life?
What kind of family issues shaped your choice of careers?
What trouble did you get into?
What trouble did you get out of?
What is still unresolved or if resolved, how?
What do you have too much of?
What do you have not enough of?
What do you regret? What would you do over if you could?
What were you glad you did? What would you do again?
What was it like being a mother? Father? Parent to aging parents?
What problem did you have to face growing up that was frightening?
What problem did you have to face with family members?
What were the times (culture, history, location, circumstances) on all of the above (or selections of the same).
What outside events shaped your life, ie: Kennedy assassinations/ Martin Luther King/ war experiences, 9/11.
* If it would be helpful, find photos, letters, memorabilia to help you put words into the experience details in the answers to the above questions.
Sixth Session: THE PLOT THICKENS
“Your life is important. Write what you want to leave behind.” - Dr. Andrea MacVicar
By now you’re realizing that writing your story is going take a great deal of thought. Usually most writers think: what should be first is organizing the various elements of my history into a plot with a beginning, a middle, and an end. But a good story doesn’t have to follow that pattern. Here are some other possibilities for organizing your memoirs.
Start with crisis.
What, why, how, when did it happen. Details please.
Start with stating your theme.
What you believe. What you learned in life. What you wish to leave behind.
Start with dialogue.
A major conversation as a turning point in your life. Who participated.
Start with birth time and place.
Why relevant? War time? Family crisis? (Of course your birth is important, but why specifically the date and/or place?)
Whatever you start with make it attention grabbing, important---something that you want to continue through your story.
Write your ending first. (Yes, it’s a circle.)
Begin with your ending and work your way back to the beginning.
Begin in the middle and work your way forward or to the conclusion.
Use flashbacks in the order of your theme.
Before you write the middle:
Think about the end---the conclusion you have come to about what is important to you before you write the middle. The middle episodes, memories, can support several ideas and events, but try to place them in categories of personal growth and learning. By placing them as mini-bridges to your overall theme (who you are and what you wish to share) you will come to a conclusion that will be consistent with revealing yourself to the reader.