Friday, January 11, 2013

Writing Toward that BIG Moment

Okay, so last time we talked about your character arc vs. your core character (or how your personality has changed over the years vs. how it has stayed the same).

Today, we're going to focus on those character-changing events (often the climax of a memoir) and, more particularly, on the scenes leading up to and away from them.

Why not start with the climax?

Well, the climax in a memoir is really hard to write, most likely because living through it the first time was painful and your psyche has put up all sorts of blocks to try and keep you from having to live through it again.  It's hard to access the memory (not necessarily that you have forgotten much of it--although you may have--but making yourself relive it in order to put it down is painful).  Once you have gotten it down, it will likely be missing a lot because most of us can't tell the whole truth the first time.  It's not that we are consciously unwilling.  It's just that it's very difficult. 

It's rather like swimming in the ocean.  Unless you're diving in from off a cliff, you need to wade through the shallows to reach the deep waters.  And so that's what we're going to look at.

Step 1:  Identify the deep water.  What is your climax or personality changing event (epiphany, what have you)?

Step 2:  Identify several prior events that led you to the epiphany.  Contrary to popular belief, most of the time, our minds aren't immediately changed.  It's a slow process.  Howard Gardner spent an entire (rather depressing) book studying the process (see Changing Minds if you're interested).  If you really examine your life, you can probably come up with at least 4-5 events that set you in the direction of the change.

Step 3:  Identify several events after your BIG event that demonstrate how you have changed.

Step 4:  Pick one and get the gist of it down.

Step 5:  Revise.  Make sure you are demonstrating both your core personality traits as well as the ones that are changing.

Repeat steps 4 and 5 as necessary.  After you have written several of these scenes, you will likely have begun to have dealt with many of the psychological blocks that were standing in your way of accessing your climax.  As these blocks diminish, and as you feel comfortable and brave, try your hand at your climax.  Expect that it's not going to come out right the first time.  You didn't learn to walk in a day.  Chances are that this will take more than a day as well.

Good luck!

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