As Vivian Gornick writes in The Art of Personal Narrative, "self-centeredness doesn't work." Rather, what works is "transforming detached empathy and making it something of value to the disinterested reader."
How might one accomplish that in memoir? One way is to play around with provocative questions and then write. For example, "Who was she to her mother?" and "Who was the mother to her?" lead to very different versions of the story.
The narrator in memoir is the guide not just to story, but to the inward journey that takes the reader on a voyage of discovery. This cannot be accomplished simply by "lying down on the couch in public," as Gornick says, and writing in a "whining and accusatory voice." Rather, it requires stepping back and giving structure, shapeliness and expression to that story.
A persona allows freedom to explore humor, irony and other emotions. It can be fun and satisfying for the writer.Our prompt is to experiment with persona. Create a voice that is emotionally expressive, but detached.
- If this had not happened (you fill in the blank), how different my life would have been.
- If I had not stepped inside (the store, the house, the school) that day . . .
- Write a scene from another character's point of view. Have a conversation with your mother when she was the age you are now. Let her talk about how she sees her life.
Your blank page is waiting . . .