If you think your memoir doesn’t need a plot, you’re making a big mistake.

Memoir is a story about someone’s life, right? Sure, if you want it to be boring.

A good memoir is not just a series of events shared chronologically. It is a tale with heroes, villains, conflict, subtext, and a great plot to keep the pages turning. Writing events down chronologically might be fine for a history book or genealogy, but if you want to engage your readers, you need to think about action. One event in a life has a direct impact on the next event. Everything you do effects the people around you and how your life develops.

A scene is action. Plot is a series of actions. When you outline your memoir, think about the actions that shaped your life and made you who you are.

Perhaps you were born in Cleveland, then you moved to LA when you were 10. Those are facts, and you might want to mention them briefly as backstory. Unless Cleveland essentially shaped who you are, or the move created a lot of conflict, none of that matters to your plot, and especially not to your reader. Mention it, and then get back to the story.

Or lets say you longed to get back to Cleveland and hated LA and your story is about moving back to where you feel you belong. Then be sure and add in every detail about Cleveland and why it meant so much to you.

Think about the person you know who comes to all the parties and becomes the center of attention because she tells the best stories. People listen attentively as this person weaves a story about something probably mundane, like a trip to the grocery store. It’s the way she tells how she went to the market for a quart of milk. What is she doing that makes her trips to get milk sound so much more interesting than your trips to the store?

Or what about the elderly uncle who knows everything about family history, but instead of just boring you with facts and names, he makes you feel like you know the people he remembers? What makes his stories about people who died before you were born so captivating?

It all goes back to knowing what your book is about. If you know that, you can create a strong plot that will make readers want to know more about you. Don’t make the mistake of sticking to a linear format. Writing a memoir is more than creating a calendar, it is writing about the meaning of life.

8 thoughts on “If you think your memoir doesn’t need a plot, you’re making a big mistake.

  1. TRUTH! “Writing a memoir is more than creating a calendar.” I’d like to mail this post to every memoir scribe whose self-published work is going to pass my desk. It’s such a common and confusing pitfall.

  2. Pingback: Spotlight Saturday #12: Plotting a Memoir | Andrea Lundgren

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