When I started writing my memoir, I floundered for the longest time. I had the memories, the writing style, and just enough grammar. But I could not figure out how to structure my story. Part of my story is the “child’s survival story” memoir like Mary Karr‘s The Liar’s Club and Tobias Wolff‘s This Boy’s Life. But another part of my story takes place in the present day and also involves family history which took place before I was born.
Then I read a memoir which showed me a new possibility. Bernard Cooper‘s The Bill from My Father. In Cooper’s book, he sets the story in a very limited present-day, which covers his father’s aging and eventual death. Then he goes on excursions into the past through flashbacks, which are in some cases very lengthy.
His structure is a far cry from what my first memoir instructor insisted upon–complete chronology without flashback. And while I can understand that a story focused upon childhood or a coming-of-age story makes the most sense told chronologically, for my story it wasn’t working.
So I am trying to structure using a present-day framework which moves to the past and then comes back to the present again. It works a lot better than telling the story chronologically.
Nevertheless, I still have problems with my structure. That’s because I have to deal with excursions into the far past. Mine have to come near the end of my book. Frank McCourt’s family info is provided at the beginning of the book, and to me it’s the one structural flaw in Angela’s Ashes: the stylistically different section where we meet the parents before the narrator was born.
What creates the biggest problem for you in your writing?
- Lit by Mary Karr (princesspineapplella.wordpress.com)
- Mary Karr: David Foster Wallace and I kept each other alive (salon.com)
- This Boy’s Life (myoldaddiction2.wordpress.com)
- Andre Gerard’s top 10 father memoirs (guardian.co.uk)