I remember when I first starting writing memoir. I was still in full reporter mode, although it had been a year since I'd stepped foot in the newsroom at The Philadelphia Inquirer. I was caught up in facts.
As a reporter, I stood back, observed. I was not paid to be introspective. I prided myself on accuracy. I spent many sleepless nights wondering if I got it right. The people I interviewed - their faces, the sound of their voices - diminished against a backdrop of checking and double checking names, places of work and titles, ages, organizations linked to websites.
While accuracy is important, this emphasis on "reporting" becomes deadening once we step into the arena of storytelling. You suffocate, drown in details. You submerge the big picture. It's like life. You lose the thread.
Thinking back on when I first moved to Tucson, Arizona for a year, I waxed poetic about sunsets, rainbows and full moons hanging over Sabino Canyon. I forgot to write why I was there! Too many lonely nights back in the bedroom in Pennsylvania, my arms hugging an old teddy bear, a hitch in my throat, crying over the loss of my husband. I had to get away, believe there could be a second chance at happiness. The desert gave me that. Once I started writing about my fear of being alone, I knew I had something . . . not just for myself, but the reader.
Creative writing comes down to putting your emotions out there. Writing should be less about the subject and more about its significance.
Is the story about money or what motivates greed?
Is it about loss or how to come to terms with growing old?
Is it about despair or how despair hones resilience?
Is it about the excitement of a new place or about second chances?
Once we move beyond the subject and understand the significance of our stories, we can employ techniques to enhance meaning.
- Think about what's behind the feeling.
- Don't just describe the feeling, show the physical impact of the emotion.
- Create a mood in each scene.
- Let your characters talk. Dialogue livens a scene.
- Show, don't tell.
- Think about the message.
- Forget accuracy if it interrupts and slows the pace.
- A little fiction and embellishment are entertaining.
- Transcend limitations and advance your vision.
In the end have fun. This is your chance to set the record straight. No one can take that from you. Put yourself in the writing. You can't go wrong.