Memoir Gaps: Filling in the Blanks

I have always carried a lot of clear and strong memories with me, especially from my childhood.

But when you go to write a book-length memoir you need more than those memories–you have to remember what happens between those vivid images, to recreate the glue between them, in a way.  Sometimes searching backwards for the hazier recollections and the forgotten events seems as if I’m trying to get into a boarded-up old building.

E. St. JamesSan Jose, CA

E. St. James
San Jose, CA

William Zinsser, in Writing About Your Life, says that the way to write a memoir is to start with those vivid memories, writing up one each day.  Then he makes a giant leap to the assumption that by writing those recollections the writer will discover her own writing style, as well as what is important and what is less important–in fact, that the writer will discover what her story truly is!

Hmm, that’s great, but then he dumps us off at the curb, without any directions on where to go from there.

That’s the place where I began to flounder and, although I’ve worked very hard at finding my structure, my story-and my direction–still have difficulties.

After many efforts and revisions, I have the beginning chapters of my book and a rough idea of the rest of the structure.  But as the story moves on, I need to work on the glue between the vivid memories.  This is true more of characterization than anything else.  Particularly since in my childhood memories I was . . . a kid.  I didn’t see the adult characters in my life as the round and dynamic* characters people they are.  And I didn’t see myself as a round and dynamic character either–not clearly.

That’s why I am using other methods to try to fill in some of the blanks.  One of these methods has been studying psychological aspects of the characters, such as the HSP and Myers-Briggs analysis I wrote about.

Writing Prompt

Another method is to write an imaginary scene which shows a reason why someone did something.  For example, when I was in 7th grade I was sat on and beaten by a fellow classmate.  I was imprisoned underneath her because she outweighed me by more than 100 pounds.  I have no idea why she would do something like this, and I remember feeling the unfairness (actually, I felt squished, too).

To get insight into her personality and motivations, I wrote a scene which results in the beating.  The scene is fiction, and I can’t use it for the book (and don’t want to share it ;)), but in writing it I learned more about the girl and myself as characters.  It’s when I do research in this way that I frequently have little epiphanies, where I learn or remember things that I didn’t know I knew.


* round characters are seen as fully-dimensional human beings, whereas flat characters tend to be one-sided

* dynamic characters change as real humans change in life, whereas static characters remain the same


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Writing prompt

19 responses to “Memoir Gaps: Filling in the Blanks

  1. Delightful!
    Oh, this problem has been out weighing me, pinning me down and hitting me. happening for a while now. Thank you.
    I wish I could rescue you, like you rescued me.
    On the playground, search and rescue, that’s what I did as a kid. Secret bully patrol team.

    • lucewriter

      I’m loving my image of you on the secret bully patrol team! I can see you in your special rescue rest and miner’s helmet. Thank you for wanting to rescue me!

      • : D
        I think dong a past-life regression were you imagine getting rescued changes our feelings to feel like we did get rescued.
        So, yeah I got to save the day and rescue you!
        A group of kids cornered me. They said one word that hit my throat and eyes like mase or tear gas. I was completely disabled in every way. Frozen crying.
        I could rescue others but not myself.
        Mat showed up, just like I used to do in my old school. It was the best feeling. After that we went on patrol together for a few weeks. Several kids.
        We rescued you, too. : )

        After a while the teachers decommissioned us and took up bully patrol themselves. We got to watch and report after that…

        • lucewriter

          What a great community response. Thank you rescuing me too ;). I think we can rescue a lot of people that way.

  2. All very interesting. You must be on the right track with those exercises.

  3. Looking good, Luanne…..sounds like you are keeping busy!

  4. Hi Luanne, I thought it’s time to say hi, and thank you for showing an interest in my blog. I am very new to blogging, and didn’t really know what I was doing, but your reflections here on memoir writing have made me realise that I’m probably working up to a memoir as well, but in a much less structured way than you are. All these exercises you are doing suggest to me you are a very disciplined writer. I really admire that.

    • lucewriter

      Ah, thanks so much! Haha, I am disciplined . . . now. It only tooks me decades and then I finally realized I was just wasting my time! Good luck with your blog and with the memoir, too! I can’t wait to hear more about it.

  5. These are some great ideas for “finding the glue” so to speak.. I too am working on a small book ( more for family than the public) and find certain details and emotions elude me..Will try some of these different approaches and see if they help. Thank you!

    • lucewriter

      Thanks, Lynne. Let me know how it goes! I must be really nosy because I would love to read your family book!

  6. Luce, I followed you over here after you “Liked” one of my posts. And the timing is great for the info you offer up here. Thanks — I’m starting a memoir writing course tomorrow and have already started work on bits and pieces of my memoir.

  7. Pingback: I Wrote My Memoir Already | slashangiton

Leave a Reply