Planning & Outlining Memoir

Preparation is hailed as the most important factor in achieving NaNoWriMo success. Not the biggest problem for folks venturing a fictitious realm, but what of us memoir rebels? Memoir is [based on] fact. It features tales of a person’s life, told as truthfully as memory allows. Preparation, then, seems like it’d be an effortless task. But that couldn’t be more wrong.

More Structured Than Fiction

I find that organizing an outline for memoir requires more time than fiction. Fiction opens opportunities to go somewhere unexpected with the story. Non-fiction has its foundation in reality, yet anyone could easily write on forever without a guide.

But that’s the goal of free-association, not memoir. Memoir is narrative non-fiction more than biography, and as such, each story should have a purpose—a direction and theme toward which they must drive. That deems it necessary to plan what to include and what to leave out for another time.

The first step in developing a memoir anthology, then, is determining the relevancy of each story. Would I like to keep the tale about how I had a blast getting lost at Blizzard Beach? Of course! It has so much juicy potential, it would flow well in memoir. But, is it relevant to my chosen theme? Maybe if I stretched it enough, it could be.

Merging “Characters”

Another aspect of memoir is condensing ideas and/or people. That’s what’s so brilliant about this genre. If there are tiny bits here and there that fit the larger theme, the Judgment of Creativity law states a writer can merge those ideas into one.  Did I have many people throughout my childhood actively supporting my writer-career decision?

…actually, no.

But if I did, I could merge those names into one character, et voilà! Magical miracle: a montage.

Tread Carefully

Another benefit of the creativity license is changing names, switching traits for certain characters. One of many simple ways to avoid that always-dreadful comment from people you know—the one that resembles “This is how you think I am?!”

Of course, most important is staying true to a story and not fixating on how readers will take it. Some will love it, others resent it, as with everything else in the world.

If you’re like me, you’ll milk creativity dry. It’s memoir, not biography. It’s my POV, no one else’s. I can refer to my characters however I want because it’s my story to tell. For sanity’s sake, though, it’ll probably help to keep names the same until the final revisions. No need to give oneself an unnecessary headache over details.

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