by Sandra W. Evans
Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." When you examine who you are and who you were meant to be, you are actually answering the philosophical question of the purpose (destiny) and significance (legacy) of your life. The goal of your memoir is to define your destiny and map out your legacy.
We all strive to make a difference. In return we want our lives to matter. Writing the story of your life, your memoir, is an opportunity to matter and reveals to you why you matter. As you write your memoir, the path that you took over your lifetime will unfold. You will learn more about yourself--your beliefs, values and the meaning of your life.
If there was a defining moment in your life, you may want to begin your memoir with this incident. If you do, you are in good company as actor George Clooney faced many defining moments in his life. Clooney was a big baseball star in high school. After high school he tried out for the Cincinnati Reds baseball team but did not make the cut. Then, he tried following in his father’s footsteps and did broadcast journalism but found that it was not right for him.
Finally, Clooney had his ultimate defining moment when he landed the roll portraying Dr. Douglas "Doug" Ross on the long-running medical TV drama ER. This culminated in leading roles in films including Batman & Robin, Out of Sight, Ocean’s Eleven and The Descendants leading to Golden Globe and Academy Awards. Today, Clooney is an actor, director, producer and screenwriter.
You may also have a humorous, life-changing or defining moment in your life. If you use a story or event, it may start with one of the following:
· Favorite family story (Our family dog, Ol’ Blue…)
· Defining moment (The happiest/saddest day of my life…)
· Life altering event (If I had been on the plane…)
· Tragic Event (When my father/mother/friend/colleague died…)
Or, you may think in terms of a book built around important life episodes. You will bask in your early years with your family, remember falling in love for the first time, relive seeing a foreign city with all their wonders or recall looking into the eyes of your newborn. It may start with one of the following:
· Early years
· High school or college
· Military or work
· Wife, children or grandchildren
· Triumphs or tragedies
As this is your memoir, it should be written from the first-person viewpoint. Details are important but do not go overboard. If you articulate openly and honestly and write from your heart, your story will unfold naturally. You will want to write for a period, reflect for a period and return to writing again.
Periodically take a break from the task at hand to let your subconscious do the work for you. Walk, ride your bike or go to the gym. Have lunch with a friend. Do anything that will help you relax. When you return, your mind will be fresher from the break.
Hopefully, this is a soulful journey full of twists and turns as you document your life. Your journey is meant to be fun as you relive the memories of a lifetime. Although you may have had some ups and downs in your life, be comforted that it is all part of your living legacy. By the time that you are done, you will have new insights into yourself and your life. Your close friends will find your memoir endearing. Most importantly, your memoir leaves a living legacy for your children, grandchildren and generations to come.
Character Stew ... (continued)
What about your stew of characters. How do you create them? How do you project them on your imaginary screen? How do you make them memorable?
Creating Characters. Do you think of somebody you know and make them into a character in your novel? This gives you a clear image of the character and may need to vivid, consistent description. But be careful. You can be found out!
I found myself in a novel once and wish I could talk to the author about his portrayal. Sadly, that author passed away. Think about it. Would you want to incorporate a living person in your novel and later be confronted by them? Once you have written the book it’s not like you can freely go back and revise the characters. If you did, the story would be destroyed.
I believe it’s best to just create your own character stew. Similarities with real people will prove unavoidable, but you can honestly deny any invasion of privacy. And, when dealing with fiction, you can avoid another common problem with writers – writing an autobiography of their life and calling it fiction. If it’s nonfiction, say so.
Portraying Characters. You can describe characters overtly, and indeed many “checklists” for evaluating fiction demand this. For example, “Burt was 38 years-old with long arms and a sloping head and his eyes were filled with tiny red veins. He belched.” Now, the first sentence is purely descriptive. It would clearly satisfy a fiction writing evaluation checklist. But the second sentence really tells us about Burt because it tells us what he does. So the challenge is to portray your characters through their actions and thoughts, and to concentrate less (sometimes not at all) on their physical attributes.
Here’s one example, using a description of a setting to portray a character.
Burt hesitated as he approached the shed where he and his teen-aged friends had spent many hours. The river still roared in the background, perhaps more dignified and slow than it had seemed years ago, but still with the strongest current in Wisconsin. He fumbled in his pocket for the rusty Schlage key, finally locating it among the wad of McDonalds and Burger King receipts and a few ATM printouts. A crinkled handkerchief clung to the key as he pulled it out and blew away in the wind. Burt stopped to scoop it up, never moving his eyes from the dilapidated structure.
Next we move into Burt’s recollections of pranks and serious moments in the shed where he and his friends had spent many summer afternoons smoking cigarettes, admiring boats and the young girls inside, planning adventures and fun for the year.
In this way, Burt is born. Our writer has created him, and if Burt comes to harm or heartache, the writer is the first person to weep. Such craziness - to create a character, make him do something, and then grieve for them. But, as writers, this is what we do.
I have no objection to the physical description of characters. But I’m the first to confess that I skip that part when I write my first draft and I slave over the characters’ thoughts, actions, and dialog. Later, when I’m done, I go back and plug in the details. It’s almost like I have to see inside the character before I can assign an appropriate description.
In a way, a novel can be seen as a Character Stew set in time, place and action. It’s the writer’s job to keep that stew cooking throughout the book. And, when the story is done, each character is fully developed and ready for long-term memory.
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Publishing New Writers,
May, 2012 (no. 1305)
Dr. Bruce L. Cook
6086 Dunes Dr,
Sanford, NC 27332
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