You can tell a story, right? We all do it at some point. Whether it’s a joke, a recent incident or a memory, we all tell stories. At parties, at work, school and at home around the family dinner table, we tell stories to each other.
Memoir writing is telling a story about yourself or a part of your life by writing it on paper. Simple as that. The easiest way to start is to chose a short story about a time, incident or situation you found yourself in. It can be funny, sad, silly or dramatic — it doesn’t matter. Now, you can just sit down and write it out if you are comfortable doing that. There, done!
Or, if you need to stretch your memory and writing muscles a bit first, you can outline your story before you start writing. Elements of a story are fundamental — we recognize a story because it contains these elements.
One way to look at the elements of a story is to go broad — we all learned in elementary school that a story has 3 parts –
Later, maybe in middle or high school literature classes, we learned that books and plays are also divided by this 3 part structure. However, now they are referred to as “Acts” — like this
- Act 1 – Beginning
- Act 2 – Middle
- Act 3 – End
Every story has an element that makes it a story. It’s usually referred to as the “inciting incident”. Basically, it means something out of the ordinary, not normal or unexpected happens. It usually creates a “desire in the protagonist, which is “you” in memoir. That’s the beginning or Act 1 of the story.
If nothing happens and it’s the same thing day after day after day — you have no story – it’s just a sequence of repeating events — Boring!
The middle of the story, or Act 2, is all about you trying to fix, change or accomplish whatever the inciting incident started. It’s the action sequence of the story filled with obstacles and challenges that are in the way of the “desire” created by the inciting incident in Act 1. Act 2 builds to the crisis level, ready for the climax of the story.
The end or Act 3 is the climax and resolution or realization of the story. Somebody or something has to change or you don’t have a story. The change is the climax.
So, you choose a story from your life that you can tell from start to finish. I doesn’t have to be long and drawn out. Just a simple story to get your brain, hands and memoir working out a bit and to get you started. You don’t jump on a bicycle and ride your first time. You have to learn how to balance, pedal and brake correctly first. You will fall down but you get back up.
Same thing with learning to write. You don’t sit down to write a 50,000 word book your first time out of the gate. Instead, you write a couple of short stories — start to finish — so you get the hang of writing and writing stories.
Below are a few links to some short memoir examples. Read one and see if you can pick out the story elements:
- Act 1 — Beginning — Inciting incident and “desire” created
- Act 2 — Middle — obstacles, problems and actions you run into by chasing the desire created in the inciting incident.
- Act 3 — End — Climax and resolution or realization of the story