Photos can play a big role in your memoir. Among other things, they help you, the writer, remember details. But they can also help you recognize big stuff, the deeper story, the weighty repercussions.
Don’t believe me? I discovered something profound in an old photo, something I’d never noticed before, which propelled me into writing my most recent memoir, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir. (More about that next week.)
Because of that experience, I encourage you to dig out a key photo related to your story. Examine it and jot down what comes to mind.
Let’s start with the easy stuff:
- When was the photo taken?
- Why were you in that place?
- What did you do there?
- What was the weather?
- Who was with you? If it’s a main character in your memoir, note his or her relevant characteristics: physical appearance, quirks, tone of voice, attitudes, values, talents, endearing qualities, maybe even odors.
- What emotion does the photo stir up?
Jot down sensory details: What did you smell? What did you hear? Taste? Touch/feel? See?
Next, dig deeper. Look at those photos with fresh eyes. Read between the lines. What’s lurking (or percolating) under the surface? What are the vibes? Is there an elephant in the room?
How did the event or place or person in the picture:
- change you?
- or prepare you for the future and make you the person you are today?
- warn you?
- inspire you?
- make your dreams come true?
- break your heart and your spirit?
- send you in an altogether new direction?
But don’t stop there. What’s the bigger picture?
Does the photo symbolize or capture the theme in your memoir? —the central idea or meaning or message? Ask yourself, What is the big picture here? What’s my story about?
For a few days, think about the photo and what it represents. It might hold more significance than you now recognize.
Here’s my experience: Years ago, I used three-ring binders to compile photos of our family’s three years in South America, and the stories that went with the photos, as keepsakes for my kids.
I assumed I had tied everything together and that the story was complete. But I was mistaken.
“Sometimes you think a story is completed
and all wrapped up.
But then, decades later, something happens
and you realize that it’s not done yet,
it’s still in process.”
Decades later, I looked at one of the photos—one of my favorites, one I’ve framed, one I’ve used in speaking engagements. That day I looked at it and saw something I’d never noticed before.
Why had I never seen it?
And suddenly I knew there was much more to my story than what I’d included in the scrapbook for my kids.
Come back next week and I’ll tell you how that old photo took my three-ring binder accounts and transformed them into my recent memoir, Please, God, Don’t Make MeGo: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir.
Between now and then,
look at a couple of photos pertaining to your memoir.
Perhaps you, too, will find clues that shout,
“Your story is not yet finished!”