Yes, even in memoir, the protagonist needs to be flawed. Flawed in her understanding, her logic, and her actions. Other characters may be flawed as well. This can be difficult for writers. In memoir, you are writing about yourself. And it needs to be true!
Okay, you may say. But which flaws do I include? How do I know which events to put into the memoir story and which ones to leave out?
We choose the flaw/s and events to include that pertain to the point we are trying to make with the memoir story as a whole.
This is why you need to know the overall point of the memoir. What are you trying to show or prove? Which insight do you wish to share with the reader? It is very important that you know where you’re going in your memoir story. Knowing the point of your story will save you from writing pages and pages that go nowhere. By knowing the overall point, you also know whether you’ve made it or proved it through your writing, and—most importantly—you know where to end the memoir story.
This is true whether you are writing fiction or essays or memoir.
But trying to find the point to convey through your memoir can be difficult to discover. It can take memoirists and writers a long time to find. At least it did with me because I overthink everything—one of my many flaws! And I’m still not sure if I have it right.
When you start out, in fiction or memoir, your point may be vague; like, forgiveness takes time or love conquers all. The point of my memoir about attending college as a mother of five is “to seize opportunity so as not to be left with regret.” I’d been instructing my children to do this ever since they were born. But maybe the point needed to be a bit more specific to my story. I came up with: “Don’t let fear and doubt stop you from taking a chance at seizing your dream.” Still kind of heavy.
The flaw I’m tracking and dramatizing with this memoir is my inner struggle with inferiority, that I was not good enough to attend college. I need to show this through concrete events in my life. Much of this is through backstory, beginning with the origin scene. We’ll address that in another post.
Writers need to consider their readers. In considering the readers of my college memoir, I believe feelings of inferiority are universal. But is it deep enough or specific enough for my memoir story purposes? I need to ponder this. Your thoughts on this would be beneficial to my memoir progress.
As for seizing opportunity and having a second chance at my dream of a college degree, I learned about community college from another parent who was attending part time. This seems ridiculous now in the age of the ubiquitous internet, but back in 1998, when I was knee deep in kids—five, remember, the oldest with social and learning difficulties—this was new information to me. When I attended high school, going to college meant going away to study, fulltime.
In the story present—the time when the memoir story opens—I thought college had passed me by. I had no time for it now. Then the Ivy League showed itself on the horizon in scholarship form because of awards earned at the community college level. And Inferiority moved into my home to live with me—permanently—taunting me daily: The Ivy League? You? A mother? Are you crazy? You got lucky in community college.
Memoirists and writers may start with a general point to their story and then make it specific to the protagonist. Why her? Why now? Why does it matter to her?
This is where specific backstory comes into play. Through backstory, we find the why of the present story you are telling. We’ll address this next month. Please feel free to ask me anything about memoir and I will explain what I know through my blog posts.
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