Saturday, September 3, 2011

Your memoir’s structure: think of it as a helper

Last Saturday we considered the importance of establishing short-term and long-term goals for completing your memoir, because:

"If you don't know where you are going,
you will wind up somewhere else."
Yogi Berra

Now is a good time to consider the structure of your memoir, the framework. In other words, decide on the order in which you will arrange the vignettes in your memoir. (Remember, your vignettes will eventually be chapters in your completed memoir.)

Does that sound like a boring task?

If so, look at it this way: A structure for your memoir can be your friend, your helper. Like Priscilla Long said in The Writer’s Portable Mentor,

Look over your list of vignette ideas—stories of times you recognized God’s involvement in your life.

If you’re like me,

  • you’ve listed a collection of stand-alone vignettes,
  • you’ve written rough drafts of some, but
  • others remain on your to-do list.

Whether or not you’ve written every story, think about your book’s structure—the order of your chapters. How can you organize them in a way that will appeal most to your readers?

Chronological order: The most obvious and easiest would be to order your chapters according to date.

Themes: Another option is to arrange your chapters according to themes. For example, you could group together all your stories about your sister, and group together all your stories about your grandfather, and so on.

Flashback: Do you remember our lesson on crafting a flashback lead for a vignette? You start with the most gripping part of the action, then flash back to what led up to the experience; at that point you use the word “had” because it moves you back to the beginning—to where and how it started. (Refresh your memory and read a sample flashback lead at

Similarly, you could structure your memoir in a flashback manner: Place the most compelling segment of your story in Chapter 1 (or maybe the first several chapters)—something intriguing or mysterious that will hook your readers. After you’ve sufficiently developed that attention-getting opening, follow with (flash back to) chapters that move the story back to the beginning, to where and how it started (and eventually work your way to the resolution).

The possibilities are plentiful. Think outside the box. Color outside the lines. Just keep your goal in mind: Organize your chapters so they enhance your overall message and optimize your readers’ enjoyment.

P.S. Be sure to come back next time because I have a really fun idea for your memoir!

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  1. Another great post Linda! I've always heard that flashbacks are very tricky and can be confusing to the readers so one should refrain from using them. In other words, there is an art to incorporating them into your story. I know they have a distinct purpose and can serve as hooks as you say. Any tips on using them effectively? Just wondering some of your thoughts..

  2. Hi, Kathy, I'm sure you are right. A writer could experiment to see if a flashback "works;" this is where a good critique group or partner would be helpful. I will stay alert for more info for you. Hope your weekend is going well, Kathy. :)

  3. Oops, I am using my daughter's account--didn't realize it! Yikes! It's really me -- Linda!