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.

Friday Night Writes

There’s a group on Twitter called Write Club (#writeclub), organized by Friday Night Writes (@FridayNightWrites). It’s helped me get a lot of writing done. There’s something about sitting at your computer writing in a room all alone while knowing that across the “Twitterverse” others are doing the exact same thing. It feels good, like your writing group is a thousand people and instead of critiquing each other’s work, you’re working together and cheering each other on. Write! Keep going! Get your word count up! You can do it! The writing sprints are 30 minutes long with a 10 minute break during which we “put down our pens” and report our word count. Of course it’s the honor system, because there’s no way to know if the guy reporting 800 words is telling the truth. He could be. I once did a writing sprint that produced over 700 words in 30 minutes. Not sure how many were actually any good, though. If your lounging in your PJ’s some Friday night with nothing to do but watch reruns of “Friends”, hop over to Twitter and get some writing in. A cocktail while you write is highly recommended. In fact, I wonder if it would be fun to take my laptop to the bar with WiFi on a Friday night and write while drinking a martini? Who wants to join me?