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How momentous events lead to compelling personal writing

What are the big events in your life? Big, life-changing, world changing events can be turning points and crucial material for writing a memoir, autobiography, or essay.

Some of the most compelling stories I’ve heard from students in my memoir classes have been about events, including 9-11, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and the Apollo 11 mission in which Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong made history by being the first men to walk on the moon.

Writing about the big moments in history grounds your stories in time and place and adds historical context. When I began writing my memoir, I created a timeline with dates and ages of key characters, including significant events in my family and in history.

Big events have a way of changing people, either in the way they see themselves or how they think about life. These moments can be loaded with emotion and meaning. Whether they’re public or personal, big events can be turning points. People remember where they were and recall vivid details. The details and sensory images that go along with them help readers feel as though they are immersed in the story.

If you’re writing a memoir or helping a family member write a family history, memorable events can be starting points for an scene, essay, or chapter.

Exercise: Take some time to chart the big moments in your life and note the dates. It could be as momentous as a historical event or a personal event that had meaning, such as the birth or adoption of a child, an illness, or the loss of someone important to you. Use these moments as springboards for writing. Use all your senses. Recall any significant dialogue. Delve into the meaning and how it changed you.

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