Training, Lessons

Lessons, skills development and training on how to write your memoirs.

  • Creative Writing,  Structure and Plotting,  Training, Lessons

    Coincidence

    Deus Ex Machina Last week’s post pointed out that little coincidental changes can alter the entire trajectory of a story. But at what point does coincidence become “deus ex machina” — defined by the Oxford dictionary as, “an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel”?   The key here is the word “contrived”. Last week, I said, “Our lives hinge on these coincidences.”   But herein lies a problem for writers. We can’t use them. We can’t dump a convenient coincidence into our story whenever we need something to change. We can’t simply insert a character or…

  • Creative Writing,  Structure and Plotting,  Training, Lessons

    Change It Up!

    This article comes out of a conversation I had with a writer who couldn’t decide what should go into two related scenes:   Dor: I’ve got two scenes fighting with each other. So not nice! Bev: What’s the key point in each scene? How can you differentiate the scenes to accentuate the point? Dor: It’s a sequence of two scenes as a big storm is about to hit. So I’m mostly combing for timeline consistency. Two characters, one makes a suggestion and the other resists. Then in the second scene (a few beats later in the time line) the other character takes the bait and goes overboard with the suggestion.…

  • Theme, Purpose and Outcome,  Training, Lessons

    Theme Rules Everything

    Figuring out the theme of your memoir can feel like catching a greased piglet, partly because of the confusing variety of terminology that refers to themes in storytelling. It might help to explain the difference between several different terms that are used to describe this notoriously difficult-to-grasp subject:  •  Thematic Premise — Your plot. Some human quality, activity or character trait leads (or does not lead) to a particular inevitable conclusion. Based on core values and beliefs, the premise can be expressed as an “elevator pitch” that includes character, the basic story idea and what’s at stake.  •  Thematic Statement — Your message. A thematic statement is a simple, powerful…

  • Creative Writing,  Organization and Research,  Point of View and Character Development,  Structure and Plotting,  Training, Lessons

    Cause and Effect

    One of the most effective ways to create a compelling plotline with a strong narrative drive is to make sure your cause and effect chain remains unbroken.   What do I mean by the cause and effect chain?   In stories, as in life, things happen because other things happen. If you fall down, you skin your knee. Your knee would not be injured if you hadn’t fallen down. That’s cause and effect.   In stories, cause and effect are a kind of glue that holds your story together. Without it, your story is merely a collection of random incidents and your reader eventually becomes bored because things happen for…

  • Creative Writing,  Memoirs,  Training, Lessons

    Repeat After Me…

    The Power of Focus in Writing Too much repetition is bad, except when it’s not. Too much detail is bad, except when it’s not.   So, what do I mean by that?   Often, we weaken our writing by repeating words and phrases without being consciously aware that we’re doing so, but the proper use of repetition can help strengthen our writing, give it more impact and make it more memorable.    The same is true for unnecessarily detailed descriptions. There’s a time and place for both of these techniques when we use them to focus our readers’ attention on something in the narrative.   In our brain, we have…

  • Creative Writing,  Structure and Plotting,  Theme, Purpose and Outcome,  Training, Lessons

    Think Big, But Write Small

    There’s an overall shape to a book-length story that we’ve come to expect — certain elements fall into certain places at certain times during the course of the story, and we’ve learned, even if subconsciously, to anticipate this underlying structure.     Everything in a story is connected. Think of your book as a fractal. This may help you stay on track with the multitude of ideas and abstract concepts that go into a book that’s as introspective as a memoir.   Six Elements 1. Story — A memoir is a story built around one main idea, theme or point.    2. Chapters — Within a story, there may be…

  • Creative Writing,  Structure and Plotting,  Theme, Purpose and Outcome,  Training, Lessons

    The Joy of Structure

    When we first begin writing our memoirs, more often than not, it’s dull. Boring. A recitation of the facts of our life. Devoid of emotion. A bland telling of the stuff that happened without any of the emotional involvement that makes a story great. Meh!   And that’s totally okay.    First drafts are supposed to be a dull recitation of plot, without all the bells and whistles that make a story come alive for the reader. First drafts are meant to get the ideas out of your head and down on paper or screen so you can do something with them. It’s only as we revise and revise and revise…

  • Creative Writing,  Dialogue,  Point of View and Character Development,  Training, Lessons

    When It’s Okay To Act Out

    Okay, so you’re writing away and you have no idea what motivates your main character (or yourself at age twelve).   Or you can visualize your MC’s best friend, but you can’t hear her voice.     Or you’ve finally finished your fifteenth draft and you’re ready to share with your beta readers or your writing group or your editor or (gulp!) your publisher, but you have a niggling feeling there’s something missing.   Take a step back and try a couple of editing techniques that are a little different.   When we read, we tend to “hear” the words in our heads.  If the story’s well-written, we “see” the…

  • Memoirs,  Point of View and Character Development,  Training, Lessons

    How Not To Be A Wimp

    Using Blind Spots and Limiting Beliefs to Power Your Memoir In my memoir classes, one of my favourite things to do is ask questions of my students to get them thinking more deeply about their stories, their characters and ultimately themselves. One of my students brought up the topic of fear of success the other day.  She mentioned that she had a crippling fear of being successful, ie. “a public figure”. When I asked her what she thought was scary about that, she couldn’t tell me exactly, although, for her, it was tied up with public appearances, maybe interviews or readings of her work.  They terrified her.  It came down…

  • Creative Writing,  Training, Lessons

    Description—How Much Is Too Much?

    Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.  — Mark Twain   What is Description? Merriam-Webster calls it “an act of describing, specifically: discourse intended to give a mental image of something experienced.”   Or: “a statement or account giving the characteristics of someone or something, a descriptive statement or account.”   Narrative (the events), and description (how the character experiences the events), are the glue that keeps your reader stuck in your story.  If nothing much happens, if the character is not emotionally engaged, then neither will the reader be engaged.   Why is Description Necessary? 1.  Description is all about the strategic delivery of important…