Saturday, January 14, 2012

How long will your memoir’s readers stay engaged, charmed, and beguiled?

Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.

Pop beads. Pedal pushers. Poodle skirts.

Full skirts, straight skirts, pleated skirts.

Car coats and cat-eye glasses.

Bobby socks and saddle shoes.

Girdles. Nylon hose with seams up the back, held up with garter belts.

Sputnik. Transistor radios. Rock 'n' Roll.

Friendship rings. Going steady.

(Pssssst. You're reading one of my lexicons.)

Remember lexicons? Last Wednesday I said I've been working on a second type of lexicon Priscilla Long recommends,* a word book for an era. I've listed those words in my 1955 - 1962 lexicon.

My lexicon from another era, 1950 - 1955, lists air-raid drills, pocketbooks, halter tops, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the GI Bill, trikes, two-wheelers, and penny candy. Unicume's Variety Center at North 4609 Nevada. Woolworths. Tea towels made from cotton flour sacks. Barrettes. Bobby pins. Spit curls.

Collecting them is so much fun! I'll enjoy working some of them into my WIPs (Works In Progressrough drafts).

But such words serve a function beyond fun.

They have to do with keeping readers "engaged," according to Priscilla in The Writer's Portable Mentor, and keeping them "charmed, seduced, and beguiled." 

Here's the issue: Your memoir's potential readers have many distractions.

Consider the lure of the Internet, texting, tweeting, and TV.

And hobbies.

And how many of us have a stack of books on our bedside tables just waiting to be read?

So what can you do to entice people to read your memoir?

You can write stories readers want to read more than—or at least as much as—they want to play with Facebook, iPods, and Smartphones.

You can enhance people’s reading experiences by doing away with ho-hum words and, instead, choosing descriptive words, specific words that create images in readers’ minds and help them step into your world alongside you. You can immerse them in your story.

Every childhood has a lexicon,” Priscilla says. Such words capture a specific time and place.

“Place names, certain trees and buildings, the toys of 1934 …,” Priscilla says, “they all make vivid a particular place, a particular era, a particular person, a particular experience.”

Here are words from Priscilla’s childhood lexicon: “greenbriar, dirt road…, 4-H Club, teats, stanchions, silage, milkers, mastitis, calf barn, gutter, manure pile, manure spreader, marsh grass.…”

You have to admit those are good words: they capture a specific place, images, and even smells. 

Now it’s your turn! Compile your own childhood lexicon. Choose words that will engage, charm, seduce, and beguile. Choose words the describe "a particular place, a particular era, a particular person, a particular experience.

Look over your WIPs and find places to include words from your childhood lexicon because they will enrich your memoir and keep your readers reading.

You’ll find fun resources and memory-awakeners at the following:

Melissa Marsh’s blog, The Best of World War II, at

Reminisce magazine online (1930s through early 1970s) at

I Remember JFK includes photos, most of which you are free to download, at

“The Libraries of Our Childhoods,” from I Remember JFK,

Touching reflections on family life in the 1960s, from the Winston-Salem Journal,

The Graphics Fairy has 2500 free images and vintage printables that will (a) help your old memories to surface (b) provide fun illustrations for your memoir. Here’s the link:

Share some of your lexicon’s words with us: leave a comment below.

And if you know of additional resources that will help others create their childhood lexicons, leave a comment below.

*Resources and links:

Priscilla Long, and my blog post, Gather “crackly” words for your memoir,

“Your story is important, but will anyone read it?” 


  1. This is a really interesting idea, Linda. I think I could apply this to my blog. A lexicon about my current life in Turkey since that's what I'm writing on. Thanks so much. A great continuation of the word bank idea.

  2. Hi, Olive Tree. Yes! A lexicon about your life in Turkey is a fun resource for your blog posts. You've done that in your blog post of today-- shopping in Turkey, and your reference to how many liras a sweater and earrings cost. I could picture you and your daughter wandering through those mazes, too. Good stuff, Olive Tree!

    I've been gathering words about my years in Nairobi: Jik, Blue Band, potassium permanganate, "Jambo," surgical spirits, work permits, expats, furlough, etc. What fun!