Thursday, May 15, 2014

Memories: They help your memoir’s characters come to life

Have you ever forgotten something specific about a person dear to you? And then someone reminded you of that characteristic? That happened to me recently.
Mom and me, Mother's Day 2004

It was during my mother’s memorial service last Saturday. During the time for sharing stories, my brother Douglas told about Mom’s inflatable, life-sized woman’s body from the waist down. She would put pantyhose, shoes, and a skirt on it and slide it part way under our guests’ cars. Her prank always got squeals and guffaws.

One time she pushed it part way under our youth minister’s car. After Mark’s visit, he descended the dozen front stairs, only to burst through the front door a few seconds later, a blubbering, sobbing mess.

“I think I killed someone! Call an ambulance! Call the police!”

Mom explained it was just a prank, but he persisted.

“I don’t know how it happened,” he bawled, “but I ran over a woman in your driveway! I think she’s dead!”

Eventually Mom calmed him down and showed him they were fake legs. Poor dear guy. I wonder if he ever forgave her.

My brother’s story during Mom’s memorial service made me laughed out loud. I’d forgotten about that segment of her life.

I remember the time Mom, an elementary school teacher, sneaked into the principal’s office when he was out of the building, and into his private bathroom, and stretched plastic wrap over his toilet bowl. (I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.)

Don’t get me wrong: My mother was more than a prankster.

Washington State Teacher of the Year
She was named Washington State Teacher of the Year. She went on to become a finalist for National Teacher of the Year and enjoyed a reception on the White House lawn with First Lady Pat Nixon.

She was on a first-name basis with our governor and first lady.

She held state-wide and nation-wide positions on various boards and commissions.

She founded a museum.

But all that’s kind of dry, isn’t it?

If you were reading stories about my mother, wouldn’t you enjoy knowing that beyond her professional accomplishments, she was also a prankster? Doesn’t that information make her seem more real and alive? More fleshed out? (I’m pretty sure I know your answers.)

Mom visited us in the middle of nowhere in South America
Are you trying to flesh out one of your memoir’s key characters?

If so, strike up a conversation with someone who knew him or her well. Start telling stories to each other and see what memories come to mind.

Also, look over photos. Photos can trigger your memories, too.

Memories are crucial in the development of your memoir’s significant people. That’s important because you don’t want—and especially your readers don’t want—lifeless, “cardboard characters.” (Carly Sandifer)

Your readers will thank you for making your memoir’s significant people come to life.

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  1. Your mom sounds like she was a very vibrant woman with a well rounded personality. How wonderful!

  2. Thanks, sweet Penny. She was a dear--though she was not perfect (just like the rest of us). I'm hoping to continue to live out the best of her, and encourage my kids and grandkids to do the same. Actually my kids have already been following in her footsteps for many years. How blessed we all are!

  3. Oh, these stories are wonderful, Linda. Thanks for sharing them here - I love it when you use your own stories to teach us something about memoir writing!

    1. Hi, Diana, I'm glad you like my stories. As you can tell, my mother has been on my mind a lot lately. I'm still learning lessons from her--and remembering stories I'd forgotten. A number of new vignettes are percolating in my brain. Some day soon I'll need to put them in writing. Thanks for stopping by, Diana. :)