Writing Secrets: Remember the flow

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

Memoir writers often start out with less trepidation than their fiction-scribbling peers.

They already know the story, right? They’re familiar with the characters, and they can picture the scenes in which the story plays out. What could possibly go wrong?

The trouble is that, even though it’s one of our mantras, people still forget: don’t forget the story just because something is true.

In every life, events happen. Every day brings new situations and events. But not all of these will help tell a coherent story. You brush your teeth twice a day, but it’s never likely to end up in a memoir, unless that’s when you first noticed your teeth loosening after being poisoned by a Russian spy.

First of all, decide what story you’re setting out to tell. Our lives contain a great many stories, not all of which will make riveting reading.

We’ve just helped someone in exactly this situation in our mentoring programme. “Help,” she yelled this month. “I’m stuck. I don’t know where I’m going anymore.”

She’s writing a charming story about her search for life and love in a foreign country. Perfect … except that she knew it so well, she thought she’d jump around in the writing.

If she felt a yen to write a scene in which she began to fall for an alluring shaggy-haired motorcyclist, she did. And if she fancied going back to an early scene when she was looking for an apartment…

Some people do write like this, it’s true. I’m not being prescriptive. But when you jump around, it’s easy to forget the arc of your story. The scenes are all discrete and exist as separate entities.

In a successful story, however, each scene develops out of the last and leads into the next. The story builds and grows in intensity from one scene to the next.

The reason she got stuck was that she forgot this. She forgot where she was going. She needs to rediscover her destination and make sure every scene helps carry us there.

Read Richard’s latest blog ‘Monday Motivation: What story’s really all about

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