IF YOU’RE WRITING A MEMOIR, reading others’ memoirs can help you in a number of ways. For instance, you might find that the structure of an author’s story is applicable to the part of your life that you’re recounting.
WILD, by Cheryl Strayed, is a great example. While the main thread of WILD takes place in the story’s present, during which Strayed is hiking 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, the reader first meets Strayed at the low point of the story, about halfway through her hike. We’re then taken into a significant stretch of backstory, before being returned to her first steps on the trail. From there, Strayed dovetails backstory with tales of the trail, all the way to book’s end.
Tone and voice
Or, if you’re seeking the right voice for your story, you might consider the difference between the cool, journalistic tone of Jeanette Walls’s THE GLASS CASTLE and the sharp-tongued young persona of Mary Karr’s first memoir, THE LIARS’ CLUB.
While all of these are wonderful works to learn from, if you’re aiming for a traditional publishing deal for your memoir, reading work that’s been published more recently (within the last five years) will give you a sense of what’s in fashion, memoir-wise. Taking your cue from what’s currently being sold, you might freshen up your own approach to improve your chances of capturing an agent’s interest.
Apply liberally to all genres: young adult, women’s fiction, self-help, sci-fi, fantasy!
These ideas are applicable to all genres. For instance, a few years ago a rumor was circulating through my writing world: A writer, deciding she wanted to write middle grade (MG) fiction for a living, started her new enterprise by reading two hundred recently published examples of MG.
As I heard it, after finishing that research, she wrote her story, taking into consideration all she’d learned from what she’d read—and got a two-book deal with a big-time publisher!
Now, I never confirmed the details of this story, so I can’t send you hieing off to read this woman’s no-doubt fabulous blog about her diligent investigation into what gets agents and editors to pull the trigger. But I can tell you this: From what I know about the wild and woolly world of publishing, this (mythical?) writer’s approach seems likely to get any would-be traditionally published writer out ahead of the pack.
Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of The Chariot from the DREAMING WAY TAROT. http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/dreaming-way/