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Writing Your Memoir and Why it Matters – Part 2

By Elise Krentzel December 13, 2022 Lifestyle

This article is the follow-up to the last blog, where I discussed why writing your memoir matters. We touched upon the importance of identifying themes.

Here we will examine and explore what happens after you’ve outlined your book themes. That will enable you to plot a patchwork story. Think about memoir writing in the same way as writing a novel. The difference is that your account happened to you.

Can You Imagine Yourself as a Character in a Book?

I do book coaching for flummoxed clients who have a story but don’t know where to begin, how to organize their thoughts on paper (proverbially), and how to utilize the themes to create a dramatic tale. For example, legalized gambling is a significant theme in one client’s life.

How did he take that and build a compelling story that people wanted to read?

First, he wrote in the third person, distancing himself from his “former self.” The theme was analyzed and picked apart to reveal what drove him to gamble in the first place! It wasn’t due to watching an uncle play cards on a Saturday night at the house. It was due to his severely constricted childhood in a religious household where NOTHING was allowed.

Can You Recognize a Subplot in Your Story?

Gambling is the central theme. The sub-plots include:

  • a tremendous amount of childhood abuse bordering on indentured servitude,
  • how religion shaped the character’s worldview,
  • how an insufferable family shielded him from the outside world.

The three sub-plots propelled him into a life of borderline crime and intrigue. Molding his character, the events surrounding his upbringing become relatable throughout the book. The package makes for a thrilling story.

“No story lives unless someone wants to listen. The stories we love best do live in us forever. So whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”

— J.K. Rowling

Are You Bombarded with How-To Emails from Unknown Sources?

Know your source. Research the “experts” before taking what they say as the be-all and end-all. I like to get inspiration from various people to keep it fresh. Here are some of my processes.

I like using Excel spreadsheets to outline each aspect of my work. In determining the theme for my current book, I broke out the theme(s) (and sub-themes) into three areas. Emotional, Physical/Events, and Career.

It went something like this. Dynamic theme: resilience and naivete. Physical: worldwide travel in Europe and Asia. Career: entrepreneurship, visionary, and perseverance. The overarching plots include building businesses in foreign countries from scratch, raising venture capital on a shoestring, and making foreign partnerships flourish.

Can You See How Stories Begin to Emerge?

And then the fun part begins – writing out chapter outlines. There are many right or wrong ways to start your memoir, as each writer has their method. I like organizing before I begin the “fun” part with one caveat. The spark of inspiration, the magic, has to happen first; otherwise, there is nothing to write about for me.

Before writing the outline for each chapter, follow the process of a) determining the arc for the chapter, b) identifying the theme for the chapter, and c) bullet point the beginning, middle, and end of the chapter.

Outlining enables you to be crystal clear about the outcome of each chapter so you can thread it together in a cohesive whole. It doesn’t take away from the creativity of writing; instead, it provides a solid foundation and framework upon which to build.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you considered writing your memoir in the third person? Do you think this will give you objectivity over your own story? Would an outline work for you? If not, how would you plot your story, chapter by chapter?

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The Author

Elise Krentzel is a book coach, non-fiction ghostwriter, and communications entrepreneur. She offers online writing courses and helps authors market their books. Her memoir Under My Skin - Drama, Trauma, Rock n' Roll is on sale, and she's busy writing book two in her memoir trilogy. She's lived in 5 countries for 30 years and is based in Austin. She's over sixty, and her son is 22!

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