Where to Start with Writing Memoir or Family History

You’ve got a story that snaps with vigor in your imagination—but you can’t seem to get started writing. Sound familiar? This is the issue—above all others—that stymies students in Annette’s and I’s writing classes. We explored some of the usual causes for ‘writers’ block’ (and solutions) in a post: http://thescribes.ca/1271-2/. The most common gremlin among these is being stumped by where the narrative should begin. Consider this:

hands writingThere’s a lot riding on the first few sentences–and, indeed, on the first chapter–which exerts pressure. We must captivate readers right from the start, but the perfect sentence(s) and story flow can be elusive. So dodge that challenge and instead:

Start Here: 

Create a plan, with answers to these questions:

(a) who is the intended audience;

(b) what’s the story about (the premise);

(c) what’s the theme (see blog post http://thescribes.ca/a-theme-provides-a-focus-for-writing/);

(d) what are the salient details of the main characters’ lives, and what makes them interesting to you, and to your intended audience? (If you’re one of these characters, as is in memoir, you need to capture this info from an objective writer’s perspective. Write a short bio of yourself, as if you were the local newspaper reporter on a story assignment.)

Jot down your answers in as little—or as much—detail as you need to set a course across the vast narrative country you want to traverse.

NOW: Jump in and start writing at any point in the tale that’s most familiar and compelling to you. This may not be the beginning–though perhaps later you’ll find it is. (Often the set up detail we imagined our readers need isn’t necessary.) With a first draft done, keep rolling forward, perhaps right to the end. (You can write in little bite sized chunks, from anywhere in the whole narrative, and fit them together later.) As you write, the story, characters, and focus will gain momentum and clarity.

You might write (and rewrite) a full first draft before you revisit the question of how this story begins–at which point you’ll know what the underlying theme is, the story’s trajectory, and its ending. With that knowledge you’re ready to write a beginning that sets the reader up for the story ahead.