Tuesday, October 27, 2009

You should write a book

There are a number of reactions to a writer's confession that they are a writer:
1) yawn. (yawn yourself you illiterate hedgehog)
2) oh really? (yes really. Nobody makes up stuff like that)
3) what do you write? do you make it up or do you write fiction? (ahhhhhh)
4) the Great Canadian Novel eh? (ah. ha. ha.)
5) I'd like you to write about my life. (called over shoulder - sorry. can't.
emigrating today).
6) are you still writing for the paper? (no, I retired in 1995).
7) I'm going to write my biography (well why not? why wait until somebody writes it
for you?)
8) I think I'd like to write about things that have happened in my life. (YES!!!)

Now that is my kind of response!
In my weekly column for a local newspaper, I often wax poetic or rant and rave on why people should write about themselves. (I didn't lie above. I retired in 1995 from that Other Paper).
Writers don't retire from writing. That's like sharks no longer chomping down.I suspect some writers want to be buried with their laptop.
But, back to where I was. What if your grandfather had written about what he did as a youth? What if your mother had written all that stuff down about herself, her family, your Dad and/or about you kids as you grew up? If she did, get down on your knees and praise the lord!! even if you are an arthritic atheist.
My mother-in-law kept a diary. After she died, I settled in for a wonderful read about her life, grandpa's and my husband's. She had recorded the weather - sporadically - since 1929! She also recorded when my husband had chicken pox and measles and that was it for the 1940s. I guess war was getting him to sleep at night.
Telling you or I to write about our own lives - ah gee - is probably a waste of good blog space. A diary or a journal is the extent we will go to and maybe not even that.
But what if it wasn't an "I was born in 1941 in Niagara Falls." What if it was complicated to compose as a novel? What if you wrote it the way you would write a novel? And no, I don't mean you can fictionalize your brother's life to get even. He will do hideous and horrible things if you blame him - in print - for setting fire to the front door or something equally heinous, when you know darn well who really did it.(My brother actually did set the front door on fire, but we don't mention that anymore - than is necessary).
You have choices: memoirs or novel. If you choose the novel, be careful what you say about others; especially if he was not convicted. Changing names won't help. Your relatives will filter out everything about them. If they don't see it that way, you may be in trouble. At best, they will be flame-throwing angry. At worst, they actually can sue. Make sure your book will not cause a rift in the family that rivals Africa's Rift Valley.
Will your story embarrass someone or make them feel betrayed becuse only you knew. Delete some stories if prudent. The relatives' first reaction to your novel should be, "Whew!".
To write a novel about your recollections, you might take an incident and weave a story around the bare bones. The story doesn't have to be true - just a darn good story based on your anecdote.
This is not a weekend project obviously. You know how to write a novel but your memoir shouldn't be any different. You need to develop characterization, plot, POV, ORDER, structure and a starting point that gives the reader some focus. Start with order and whisper 'POV' like a mantra. Even if cousin Liza was not happy to be left out, if she wasn't a part of a story, leave her out.
I am 'praying to the choir' here. You know how to write. These are just some ideas.
And who says your heroine's story can't have some of your's?

I will be out of town, without internet probably, so it will take awhile, but I will answer all your comments. Thank you for your patience! connie


Jana Richards said...

Hi Connie,
I've never actually thought about about writing my memoirs because quite frankly, I'm really boring! But I understand what you mean about wishing your grandparents and great-grandparents had kept journals of their lives. Unfortunately, my grandparents and great-grandparents could barely read and write, at least in English, so that might have been difficult. Still, I would have loved to hear about their adventures in the "old country", learn about their immigration to Canada, and the hardships they surely must have faced in the early years. I've heard the odd story, but a fuller picture would have been wonderful.


Yunaleska said...

I wouldn't write my memoirs, but little snippets of life invariably do end up within my novels. It's bound to happen. Events and people are heavily changed, so people, unless they were involved, wouldn't know who was involved or what really happened. Such is the wonders of writing fiction. You can actually have an inter-galatic war!

Karyn Good said...

Well, I can say I've heard more than the odd story. :D

I often think I should sit down with my Dad and record his recollections and stories about his past. They make for fond memories and interesting glimpses into life on the prairies during the 30's and 40's. As well, as the stories he remembers his parents recounting of their early lives in Europe, which make for more fascinating tales. Although he has mentioned on more than one occasion that he's going to write his memoirs!

Obe said...

I love reading other people's lives but I'm afraid I might be a bit bland. I've never done anything quite as exciting as you guys. I live however though the lives of my heroines

Helena said...

What with my travels in the past week, I've also been without internet access from time to time. (As you already know.)

I'm back home now, and trying to catch up. Just going to add a small comment.

I have really struggled with the decision whether to write about some of my own experiences in fictionalised form instead of writing about that 'exciting' year as a memoir. I have done some partial drafts both ways.

I have finally decided (for now, at least) that there is more flexiblity going the fiction route. After all, I really can't remember the exact words of a conversation from so long ago, now can I? I like the freedom that fiction will give me to write the dialogue which will convey the ideas that I remember vividly from that time. The same is true about plot. Fiction will allow me to add, change, leave things out, etc. to make a better story without losing the flavour of the era or damaging the original premise.

Well, anyway, we'll see how it goes, as they say. I enjoyed your post, Connie.

connie said...

You're right. We would have to be careful not to upset the family (Unless....)
Intergalactic wars. I don't think me family is up to such things but a replay of world war two is a distinct possibility.

connie said...

Bland? I don't think that can be true. How about school in your day? How you met your husband? Your kidlets sayings and activities over the years? Living in the south? Growing up in the south? I'd like to read it and so would your family.
Modesty doesn't make it as an excuse!
Thanks for commenting