What to Write in a Memoir (Part 2)

what not to write in a memoir
image of open photo album with graphic: what to write in a memoir part 2

 

In my last blog post, What to Write in a Memoir (Part 1), I touched on some of the mistakes memoir writers make, as well as what to include in your life story to make it compelling and valuable.

In this post, I am going to share what to EXCLUDE in a book about your life. After all, there is a lot at risk – your reputation, your relationships, and even your livelihood should you be sued.

What NOT to Write in Your Memoir

The most common mistakes I see in memoir include:

Assumptions

Telling stories about others that the writer may not have permission to share. There is a saying that there are three sides to every story: Person 1’s perspective, Person 2’s perspective, and the truth.

You can only speak for yourself. Don’t assume or read into other people’s thoughts, beliefs, emotions or motivations. Tell the story from your perspective and own it. Share your own feelings, and don’t assume you know what other’s feelings are.

Slander

Talking about people, places, or things in slanderous or inaccurate ways can get you into hot water. State facts and show examples rather than name calling or assuming information. Don’t be sloppy – do your research. Not telling the truth destroys your credibility.

The positive side of doing research and getting facts is that it builds rapport and credibility with your reader, and also helps them understand the setting or scene in a more compelling way. And, you won’t get hit with a slander lawsuit.

Overshare

Sometimes we feel compelled to share more information than we need to. Often this comes in the form of an “information dump” at the beginning of the story. This isn’t needed, nor appropriate. Good story tellers weave this information in and let it be discovered. Sometimes oversharing is a problem when information comes into the story when appropriate context hasn’t been built. Again, don’t be sloppy – build your story rather than dump information.

Oversharing can also include giving the reader too much detail or sharing information that is confusing or unnecessary for moving the story forward.

Undershare

On the flip side of oversharing is the opposite – not giving the reader enough background information or context. Sometimes this involves skipping over huge gaps of time without explanation, or being in a setting or scene that doesn’t make sense. Usually just a few sentences can fix this.

Another way this can show up in your writing is when you leave out how you feel or perceive a situation. Doing this assumes the reader thinks or feels the same way as you do, and that is not always the case. Connect the dots for the reader. Here are two examples to illustrate my point:

She walked into the room wearing red stilettos! I shook my head.

Did you shake your head in dismay or approval? Did you smirk or sigh at her boldness? Explain why you shook your head – there are too many things we can interpret here. Quick fix: …stilettos! I shook my head in disbelief that she’d show up so brass knowing the wrong she had done.

 

“Umm, boiled meat.”

Umm as in yum? Or umm as in disapproval? Share more about the beliefs behind this statement and what it means to you – don’t make assumptions that your reader know or believes the same as you. Quick fix: …meat. She snarled, curling up her vegetarian lips to me as though it was a bunny in the pot and not roast beef.

 

There are some unique techniques and “rules” specific to writing memoir. Knowing them and following the suggested actions makes the difference between a memoir that is compelling and well received, and a memoir that is bashed and trashed.

If you are considering writing a memoir, or a book with memoir components and feel you could use some help, schedule a free session with me to learn more about how I can help.

What to Write in a Memoir (Part 1)

what to write in a memoir

One of the most frequent questions I am asked in regarding to writing a memoir is what to include and what to exclude. I love getting this question, because often when I review a memoir manuscript where this wasn’t asked, I find some serious problems.

These problems include:

  • Telling stories about others that the writer may not have permission to share
  • Talking about people, places, or things in slanderous or inaccurate ways
  • Oversharing information that could cause more harm than good
  • Trying to tell too much that doesn’t move the story forward
  • Giving too much detail when it isn’t needed
  • Not giving enough information or background/context
  • Recounting information factually, rather than telling a compelling story
  • Leaving out feelings, or assuming the reader thinks and feels the same way the writer does

Why do any of these matter? Well, include the wrong thing and you open yourself up to a lot of potential pain: emotionally, if your friends or family are hurt by what you said; legally if you break confidentiality agreements or commit slander; and professionally, if you share something overly vulnerable. Bottom line, I have your backside and won’t let you expose your ass.

What To Write in Your Memoir

Remember than no one can write their entire life story. You likely don’t remember your birth and very early years, and while you can get that information from interviews, it isn’t always needed.

For example, I had one client who became blind during his birth due to an accident. This was critical for the story, so we shared it.

Another client was sharing about her adventures in her adult life, so writing about her birth had really no value. We briefly recapped some highlights of her childhood home life, but otherwise went right into her story.

Overall, consider what you want the reader to learn and walk away with.

 Include:

  • Stories that drive interest and help us understand the journey you are taking us on
  • Stories that show us certain traits or attributes about you as a person that come into play later in the book
  • Stories that introduce us to valuable characters and relevant settings
  • Stories that share your thoughts, feelings, beliefs

Your memoir isn’t just a chronological listing of events in your life. In fact, I often coach my clients to look to their outline for inspiration, but not follow a chronological path.

For most people, following themes makes more sense – but not always. It comes back to your end goal and what you want your audience to leave feeling and knowing after reading your book.

 

In the next blog, What to Write in a Memoir (Part 2), I will share about what to exclude or not talk about in your memoir, including examples of what I’ve seen in the past and why it is ineffective.

If you are considering writing a memoir, or a book with memoir components, and feel you could use some help, schedule a free session with me to learn more about how I can help.

The 3 Biggest Mistakes New Writers Make

Mistakes New Writers Make

I find that when I first read sample chapters from a new client, I often come across the same errors. The mistakes new writers make tend to fall primarily into three categories, so I wanted to take a moment to talk briefly about each. Practice and experience with the editing process will help you overcome these, as will increased awareness, and working with a professional writing coach and/or taking writing classes.

Mistakes New Writers Make #1: Point of View

One of the biggest errors first time authors make, whether fiction or non-fiction, is in the area of Point of View (POV). They tend to misunderstand how it works, and therefore make errors in its use.

Point of view refers to the narrator of the story. I like to imagine POV as where the camera sits in filming the story. When used correctly, the reader can easily follow who is narrating, making it easier to understand and connect with. The four primary Points of View are:

First Person – The camera sits in the main character’s head, and only their head. They tell the story using the pronoun “I” and are limited to only what they can sense and believe.

Example: “I love ice cream and it’s my goal to try all 30 flavors.”

Second Person – The camera sits in the head of the reader; however the author takes great liberty with this, telling the reader what they sense and believe.

Example: “You wake up with the sun hitting your face and the smell of lilac and fresh sheets.”

Another use of second person is in instruction, such as in non-fiction.

Example: “You will want to track all of your income and expenses to create a budget.”

Third Person Limited – The camera sits in the head or heads of your main character(s). She, he, they pronouns are used and you can switch points of view at scene breaks or chapter breaks. Usually the POV swap is only in the heads of primary characters, otherwise it becomes too confusing. Whatever character’s POV you are in for a scene limits the narration to what that specific person senses and believes.

Example: “John was ready to sleep. It had been a long day. He looked forward to the firm mattress, floppy pillow and fresh sheets awaiting him at home.”

Third Person Omnipresent – The camera sits in the hands of “God” in this POV. He, she, they pronouns are used and all characters have the opportunity to have their beliefs and senses revealed through the narrator who knows everything, whether or not the character(s) do.

Example: “John and Kristi were next to be presented The Game that would change their lives. John would take it because he felt inadequate as a provider and the money would give them the nest egg they desired. Kristi would agree for the excitement, something she felt she was lacking after nine years of marriage and endless failed attempts at becoming a mom.”

Third person limited and first person are the most common points of view in fiction books. Non-fiction books often fluctuate between either first or third person, and second.

Mistakes New Writers Make #2: Telling Rather Than Showing

Another common error made by new writers is telling the reader information rather than showing it. The correction to this is called Show Not Tell. Here’s an example of Tell:

John met Kristi at the bank and liked the way she looked. He asked her on a date and they met and had a really good time. They decided then and there to get married.

Here’s an example of Show:

John met Kristi at the bank. He remembered her walking in with the sun behind her, just like how angels appear in renaissance paintings. He knew then he could love her. “You look amazing.”

Kristi laughed, and spun around with a boldness he found sexy. He reached for her, “Would you like to have dinner with me Friday night?”

From here you could write a fun scene about their date if you wanted. Ask yourself if there is a better way to show the information, and if so, choose that.

Mistakes New Writers Make #3: The Mis-Use of Tenses

Another mistake both seasoned and new writers make is using the incorrect tense. This is one of the reasons I always suggest using an editor. This is a habit that will improve with awareness, practice, and self-editing.

Examples:

Kristi bent over and ties her shoes. (INCORRECT)

Kristi bent over and tied her shoe. Her gold and diamond necklace slid from her neck onto the floor. (CORRECT)

Kristi bends over to tie her shoe. Her gold and diamond necklace slides from her neck onto the floor. (CORRECT)

In the last two sentences the verb tenses (action word) are consistent with each other. Be sure to use a consistent tense and determine which one feels best for your story. Practice makes perfect.

 

If you are looking to improve your writing, I invite you to join my community of writers and authors on Facebook. I offering writing tips, writing groups, and peer support as well as one-on-one coaching. Join us and avoid mistakes new writers make.