In my last post, I wrote about different approaches for writing memoirs. In part two, you’ll find four more ways to write about a slice of life.
Pet memoirs. Pets have a tremendous impact on our lives and experiences with them make for great storytelling. Dog Years: A Memoir by Mark Doty and Ever By My Side: A Memoir in Eight Pets by veterinarian Nick Trout are two examples of animal stories that endure.
Coming of age. Published in 1967, Stop-Time by Frank Conroy is a classic American autobiography. Rocket Boys by Homer Hickham is the story of Hickham’s goal to work for NASA and how he and his classmates found a way to make their dreams to launch a rocket and win a science competition come true. The book was later made into a movie called October Sky.
Physical challenges. The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory by Kenny Fries is beautifully written account of how his specially made shoes help him adapt and move through life. In Autobiography of a Face, Lucy Grealy wrote about her struggle with cancer. Grealy was diagnosed at age 9 with Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancer that attacked her lower jaw. Grealy went through many surgeries, as well as chemotherapy and radiation. Her memoir examines her suffering, the meaning of beauty in society, and her struggle to be accepted for who she was.
Survival stories. In Night, Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel wrote a riveting account of his survival in the Nazi death camps. Norman Olstead writes about surviving a plane crash and his coming of age in Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival.
For four more ways to write about life, read part one of this post.
There’s more than one way to craft a personal or family story. Consider how you could create a form that fits your personal style and passion.
If a memoir is a slice of life, you might want to write one based on your recipes, gardens you’ve grown, or cars you’ve owned. Find more ideas about structuring your life story in the examples below.
A life in lists. In a workshop I attended, Patricia Charpentier, author of Eating an Elephant: Write Your Life One Bite at a Time, shared different approaches to writing a life story, including one made up of lists. She once worked with a man who never wrote a complete sentence. He processed his life by making daily lists. Charpentier said the man had been making a list every day for 30 years. Topics included, “What I like about so and so,” the headlines of the day, and what movie was showing.
If you’re interested in writing a life story in lists, check out Listography Journal: Your Life in Lists by Lisa Nola. Read more
One of my friends came to me recently feeling overwhelmed about writing her life story. She struggled with knowing where to start and what to include. I advised her to approach it as a group of stories about the big, pivotal moments in her life instead of trying to write the “story of her life.”
I figured this technique out when I helped my uncle write his personal story. He focused on key moments that caused a shift in how he looked at life and how he matured as a man, including: time spent on the battlefield in World War II, meeting and marrying his wife, and the birth of his sons. These moments were the catalyst for change, which is something we want our characters to do in stories, whether they’re real-life people or imagined characters living out the plot we create.
If you’re struggling with how to write your personal story or memoir, set your focus on the big, memorable moments.
In the end, you’ll have a group of stories that you can weave together to form a whole. Here are several tips and prompts to help you start:
- Excavate memories by using the words, “I remember.” Riff on this question to unearth important memories. Read more