“We’ll find out a lot about the topic you’re writing about, but it is you who are being revealed…. Consciousness shifting is the engine of the memoir.” Lorraine Ash
Memoir is an increasingly popular genre, yet it’s also incredibly challenging. Knowing what to put in and what to leave out is difficult in fiction, but doubly so when writing a memoir. And finding a narrative arc that shapes personal reflections into a coherent story rather than just a collection of memories and events can be the most challenging of all. Avoiding these pitfalls can make all the difference between a satisfying memoir with forward motion and emotional punch and one that drifts without a rudder.
Having an experienced guide can help. That’s why it was so helpful to spend a recent evening with Lorraine Ash at her Write Group mini-workshop called “The Four A’s of Memoir.” A workshop instructor, journalist, and editor, Lorraine is a gifted memoirist and author of Life Touches Life and Self and Soul. Her model not only helps shape a satisfying memoir, it can also be fruitfully applied to fiction. Here are the “Four A’s” in brief:
Assault: An incident or emotional event that evokes questions that your story will explore. It orients the reader and provides a “pivot point” — a turning point after which nothing is the same again.
Abyss: A flashback that carries the writer and reader back in time. At this stage, “a question arises from deep in the reality of the story,” notes Lorraine. It’s a difficult question that propels the narrative and transforms it into a “a journey to the answer.”
Awareness: At the heart of the memoir, are the inner experiences and consciousness shifts that occur at different points — insights are revealed, reflections occur, you lose ground and gain ground as you come to understand yourself and the events that shaped you more
deeply. All these lead to a “Master Insight” — a transformative occurrence.
Action: This phase of the story offers readers a sense of “resolution” — it shows the new reality that emerges from the author’s journey and the new state of deeper understanding that telling a story has led the writer to. It captures the fruits of the awareness gained and gives a glimpse of how they may be expressed as life moves forward.
Thinking about my children’s novel, I see aspects of this approach that I can adapt to the fictional world I’m creating. The “Four A’s” offer a powerful organizing structure that can have many creative variations.
For more on Lorraine Ash’s books and workshops, visit: http://www.lorraineash.com. Bravo, Lorraine — write on!