Studying Real People

Thanks for keeping me company while I did research for my book throughout the month of February.  This month I’m going to work on characterization.  Because it’s a memoir, the main character is yours truly.

My parents also figure prominently in the book, as a significant part is about my child and teen years.  Since I’ve been with my husband since we started going out in high school, he’s another character.  My grandmother shows up in the book, both as the elderly lady I knew and in a younger, imagined version.

While we are all real people, we will also be book characters.  For me to have enough understanding to successfully capture these characters on the page, I want to study more about characterization in general and about these particular characters in the specific.

I started by reading up on characterization in my favorite creative nonfiction how-to books.  I like what Jennifer Traig writes about being the main character in a memoir in The Autobiographer’s Handbook:

It may be helpful to think of it as a novel with a protagonist who shares your name and life history.

That’s good.  It gives me some distance with which to write.

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Do you have any tricks for making it easier to write about yourself and your own life?250px-Playign_cards-biju

12 Comments

Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Research and prep for writing

12 responses to “Studying Real People

  1. I do this in my personal essay blog, but I can’t imagine putting myself in a longer piece, like a book. People are so amazingly contradictory. It’s easier to “streamline” a fictional character into a few salient points, but real life humans are SO much more complicated! It requires an ability to step back and try for a little objectivity to honestly and authentically assess a whole person and then sort out defining patterns.
    You have a tough task ahead of you – I’ll be interested in how you work through it!

    • lucewriter

      You are so right about the difficulty. I can’t handle my own contradictions much less those of others. Something smacks of Walt Whitman!

  2. I like the quotation: “It may be helpful to think of it as a novel with a protagonist who shares your name and life history.”

    I have not attempted to write an extended piece about myself. In the short pieces I have written, the “I” fits into that particular piece, is the “I” the piece demands. I have not tried to be various ages in one piece. I have not attempted to engage or please a reader. You have undertaken a worthy challenge.

  3. I think attempting to characterize yourself is one of the most difficult things to do. I have never been able to look at myself objectively…. who the heck am I? I don’t think I know. Good luck on this endeavor. It sounds like something I would like to try someday.

  4. It occurs to me that in writing the character for self in a memoir one risks sacrificing truth and honesty. Surely it is more authentic to use your own voice?

    • lucewriter

      Mike, thanks for a great comment! I actually think it’s just the opposite. People don’t often present a really truthful portrayal of themselves when they begin to write memoir. It’s only when you really know yourself well enough that you can be honest. And if you’re writing a story which occurs over a long period of time, you have to know different versions of yourself, depending on your age. I have been working on this book for four years and am still digging into things, especially myself!

  5. This may open a Pandora’s box of sorts, but have you considered having those close to you record their thoughts on you and your shared experiences (without you being present)? It might provide you with new perspectives.

    • lucewriter

      I’ve actually been asking as many questions as I dare without wigging anybody out because you’re right, it could be a Pandora’s box!

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