Witty Nib Writing Club – 5 Tips for Memoir Writing

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This month in the Witty Nib Writing Club, we’re focusing on memoir!  Join in the prompt here and start honing your skills.

5. Tell the Truth

Sometimes you’ll want to embellish it.  Sometimes you’ll want to tone down some of the bad stuff.  In both cases, however, you’ll want to avoid it.

Telling the truth enriches your story and allows a human element to shine through.  When someone is reading a memoir, they’re looking for a story that draws them into the reality of someone else’s experience.  Stories from your life already come with a richness and detail that make them full of character and drive.  Tap into those feelings, share the themes and drive within your story.

Even if you’re able to create a convincing lie, a story that isn’t true isn’t doing service to a reader who believes it.  Respect the reader and give them something about you to chew on.

There are two instances where a lie may be necessary: the easy one is a lie of omission.  Since you won’t be telling your whole life story, either for this club or in any medium, sometimes you’ll need to cut things that might seem important.  The second is to change people or place names in order to protect the innocent.  If you don’t have permission to post a story with a real person in it as a character, change enough identifying information that they can’t be picked out. If you can’t protect others, consider telling a different part of your story.

4. Focus on a Single Story

I love reading biographies, but they’re not the same as a memoir.  A biography states the course of an entire life, focusing on how formative events in one era can shape the decisions in a later.  It is more factual, dry, and somewhat historical.  A memoir is a small story that focuses in on small, formative events.  These events are told in a narrative form and evoke emotions.  They entertain. 

When people publish their memoirs (plural), what they’re publishing is a collection of memories and small tales.  That’s why you often see memoir, singular, to describe a small story.

So get into small, gritty details.  Look for formative events and determine what messages they sent to you and will say to your audience.

3. Determine Your Audience

Memoir is often used in a therapeutic sense.  In this case, writing the memoir can help one work through a tough time, or help us remember a good event.  It can be peaceful and calming to recollect the past.  When writing with therapeutic purpose, however, the audience is the self – or the self and a loved one or therapist, at most.  When the self is the audience, the goals are to please yourself and follow the flow that helps you.

When writing for a larger audience or with the intent to publish (i.e. if you were writing a Chicken Soup for the Soul story), things change.  How do people other than you look at the story?  Are the same things important?  Is there an overarching feeling or message conveyed in the story?

When writing for self, the purpose is to get your emotions out.  When writing for others, you need to suck their emotions into your story.  This doesn’t mean you can’t write about the same events for either cause, it just means you may need to think about where the entertainment and enjoyment are coming from.

2. Don’t Worry About Having a “Boring” Life

I’ve read plenty of great memoirs in which nothing of real, plot-worthy note happened.  Sometimes it’s just a person sitting around, doing nothing, while the world seems to crash in on them.  It’s about the development of character and emotion.

As well, something to remember: your ‘boring’ life is someone else’s exciting.  When I was growing up, I thought nothing about my grandparents’ rug, but then in college my now spouse alerted me to the fact that normal people don’t put actual sawblades on their floor.  My spouse thought swimming was something normal people did, but I was very impressed and interested in how people could do competitive swimming.  You are never too boring.

1. Remember, Good Writing is Good Writing

Check your grammar, read over your writing, tag dialogue appropriately: these are things useful for any prose.  Just because you’re writing a true-to-life story doesn’t mean you’re safe from these elements.

One important element of memoir is voice.  You want your voice to come through when you write, and sometimes it can be tempting to do this as literally as possible.  As a redneck, I have plenty of relatives with speech patterns that don’t fit standard English.  However, standard English is what most people know how to read and interpret.  Find your balance between good sentence structure and your own dialect, and don’t underestimate the importance of being able to read something without much effort.

Other Places Full of Neat Hints

Looking for more things to consider as you write a memoir?  Perhaps just want to listen to someone with more authority than me?  Then enjoy these links.  I’ve noticed that a lot of the same advice floats around, so definitely check out how many hints are shared between them!

Reader’s Digest “Great Tips on How to Write Memoir

New York Publishers’ “How to Write a Memoir that People Care About

Standout Books’ “Six Tips for Writing Memoir

Do you have any more hints or tips that I’ve missed?  Something you’d like to focus in on?  Leave it in the comments!  Or, better yet, feel free to talk about it in your own response to Witty Nib Writing Club’s first prompt!

Introducing the Witty Nib Writing Club

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When I was involved with a writing club, I learned a ton of excellent strategies, styles, and other writing niceties.

Since then, I’ve found blogging, Twitter, and other social media to be great for meeting other writers and readers interested in the craft, but there’s something missing in the sphere: a low-risk, accessible outlet for creative growth.

That’s the niche Witty Nib Writing Club hopes to fit into.

Interactivity Centered

In the Witty Nib, one of the cornerstones of the club is comments.  In fact, the submission sheet requires you to give the URL of a post where you commented.

One of the great things about WordPress and Twitter is the encouragement you get from other writers.  99% of the time, that’s exactly what you want.

Sometimes, though, it can be useful to receive constructive input. When you comment on a Witty Nib post, remember to say something constructive.  Use techniques like compliment sandwiches, asking thoughtful questions, and using quotes or evidence from the original text to comment on.

Witty Nib Themes

Each month, Witty Nib participants can partake in a writing theme. These themes can be genres – like fantasy, drama, or historical fiction – or they can be techniques, like alliteration or onomotopoeia. I’ll post here some hints, tips, and thoughts to get you started, but it’s up to you to take that and make it into something awesome.

I’ll post a new theme on the first Wednesday of each month and do a roundup at the last Wednesday of the month.  Responses need to be given by the Saturday before the last Wednesday of the month in order to be included in the roundup.

Your Responses

There’s three parts to getting the most out of the club.  You can do parts and not all of the response, but I’ll only include complete responses in the roundup.

  1. Write a story, poem, or essay that fits the theme and can be critiqued by other people. Your story or poem responses should fit the theme and be less than 500 words long.
  2. In your post, point out 1 or more elements your response contained that could help improve others’ writing.  If you got the idea from someone else, mention that!
  3. Comment on at least one other person’s post. Be constructive if you can, supportive if you can’t!

This means linking to your post in the comments below.  I’ll approve pingbacks, but you might want to comment if you don’t see it show up soon. I’ll read your stuff if no one else does!

To go into the roundup, I’ll need you to fill out the form.  The reason I want this is because I think it’d be crazy for me to go through all the comments to make sure you commented – I could be searching for eons!

Witty Nib Month #1 – Memoir

Memoir is a great way to start so we can meet each other and practice writing flash fiction.  Write something fun, fresh, or frightening for others to enjoy.  Remember to put one hint or tip at the end of your post, leave a link to your post in the comments below, and comment on another person’s post!

Because this is the first month and I’ve expounded upon the rules in insane detail here, I’ll be making a follow up post with hints and tips for writing memoirs.

I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

The Form

Leave a link in the comments for other people to participate with.  This form is for the end-of-the-month roundup.  If you want to be included in the roundup, you’ll need to use this form.  If the form doesn’t seem to work, I’ll see what I can do for the next post.

 

Run, Sinner

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The dogs barked. They were getting closer.

“Dear God, please save me.” She clutched a small rock tied to a thong and prayed they not sniff her out. She’d stolen a crust of day old bread for her kid brother, but that was illegal. Draconian laws still demanded her hands be amputated for thievery.

She pulled herself further underneath the poplar’s roots. The dogs’ feet splashed in the creek as they sniffed and snorted.

“Hoh!” a man’s voice called. The dogs looked up and ran back to him, the hunt called off.

She waited until they left, then ran for the next county.

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This was written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt #132, Draconian.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A High Price

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“I’ll give you power,” the devil crooned, “For bartering your soul.”

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This was written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt #124barter. With only 11 required words, I had to do it.

Hello, everyone – as any regulars may be able to tell, I’ve slowed down a LOT on the blog recently. I’m in the home stretch on my dissertation, though, with only about a month and some change to go! Hopefully after that I can get back on the bandwagon.

Until then, I’ve got all my book review posts planned through to the new year, and those should be reliable.

I got the picture off a royalty-free image site a couple years ago and don’t remember which one.

The End

The priest beheld the visage of the old man. The ancient General seemed shrunken from age, but the priest did not believe the call for extreme unction was necessary at this time. In many respects, he hoped it wasn’t necessary, because the old man was filled with heroism and daring.

And, worst of all, he was certainly bound for the devils’ hell.

The old man, surrounded by many family members and servants, pointed his cane to a chair with horsehair-stuffed cushion. “Sit. We don’t even have an hour, Father, and it’d be a damn shame to waste these precious few minutes.”

The priest coughed at the cursing and took the seat. “I – sir, forgive me if I seem insolent to one so aged and venerable as you, but you appear to be in tolerable health. I brought the appropriate oils for anointing, but I won’t apply them if it’s unwarranted.”

The old man brushed off the statement. “I will die when the sun is at it’s peak. I’ve made my peace with it, and I gathered all who are important to me here in this room.”

“And how can you be so sure? Do you… you don’t plan on shooting yourself, do you?”

“By the eternal, no! Good God man, you think me mad?” The General laughed, which caused him to cough up some slime which he spat into a handkerchief.* “No. Almost 16 years ago, I sacrificed several months off the end of my life to get something far more important than lingering here on this soil. Now, all the signs and signals are fulfilled, and I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I will die within the hour.”

The priest shook his head. “There’s no way to know for certain. Our Lord Yarenth is not master of devilish signs or superstitions.”

“Yarenth also isn’t the master of the blood magic I was part of to excise the last few months off my life.” The old man’s eyes, clouded by cataracts and sitting behind glasses and flaps of wrinkles, still held a frightening, threatening power. “I am certain I will die. If you do not perform this action, Yarenth will hold your treachery against you.”

The priest nodded. “I think you at least believe what you say.”

“And how dare you not believe me in return?”

The priest opened his jar of alabaster oil, sprinkled a bit on his own hand, then rubbed it on the old General’s forehead. He muttered some words in a language he didn’t understand, in a language he almost certainly garbled, then closed the box back up.

All the family members swooped in upon the oil-laden general. His son, bedecked in his own uniform, sat on bended knee at his foot while nieces and nephews of diverse ages teared up and wept.

“What is the matter with my dear children?” The general asked. He rubbed his son’s head, patted the top of a little boy’s. “Have I alarmed you? Oh, do not cry. Be good children and we will all meet in Heaven.”

The sun rose imperceptibly, and the clock struck noon.

The General gave one breath, which passed easily from his lungs, and all was over.

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*The slime is from a lingering respiratory problem due to a bullet lodged in his chest. It’s not actually the thing killing him in this scene.

This was written for Joanne the Geek’s Flash Fiction Challenge #7, The End. In this, we’re supposed to write the end of a book that we’ll likely never make. I know she said to do the last paragraph, but I couldn’t do it. The last paragraph had to be a single line for this book.

The book I’m talking about here is part of an enormous series that I’m not sure I have enough time left in my life to finish. I wrote the first novella earlier this year and will work on the second when my hand feel a little better, but this one is like… the end of novella #60? Something ridiculous like that?

Anyway, this is the last part in my “novella crazy pants series” before the plotline goes completely off the rails.

A Familiar Face

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The old woman stroked the cat, and his yellow eyes blinked with content. She drank a bit of potion – or tonic, as she called it in the market – and smacked her lips. “Excellent work, my boy.”

The apprentice to the witch, a boy of 17, nodded in thanks. Years spent under the witch’s tutelage had led him to be a formidable witch in his own right, and fewer seemed to suspect him of wrongdoing than the old witch. He found this unfair but decided to use the advantage.

“I think you are ready for a familiar,” the witch said.

His eyes glittered. “Really?” He sat back down, trying to calm himself and not seem so interested. “I mean, sure. I think I’m ready.”

The witch simply smiled, pet the cat – Sam, her familiar – on her lap. “Then I will help you. The first step, of course, is to use the beast-speech potion to find an animal whose personality works well with yours. Heed me, my dear: do not choose an animal who is unwilling. The familiar will last for the rest of your life, and its death will take a piece of your soul with it.”

The apprentice nodded. “I know. I understand.”

“Then take your time. When you find such a creature, bring it here, and we’ll request its service.”

***

A month later, the apprentice drank the potion once more. He’d spoken to every animal in the county, perhaps even the territory considering how many animals traversed through the area while seeking somewhere else, and no reasonable creature had wanted to help him.

And those who might have agreed were bugs or spiders or other creatures too stupid to understand what he asked.

A black cat belonging to a family in town licked its paws while it sat on a railing. The apprentice walked up to it, and he asked, “What’s your name?”

It stopped licking. “Fuck off, mate.”

The apprentice furrowed his brows and stepped back. “I beg your pardon?”

“You heard me. Fuck off, go away. I’m happy here and don’t want to serve the likes of you.” It continued licking its paw. “Everyone knows what you’ve been up to for the last month, so don’t even pretend like this wasn’t some sort of interview.”

“Well, excuse me for living!” the apprentice growled back.

He removed himself from the foul animal’s presence and headed back to the witch’s little house in the woods.

***

He found the witch stirring a brew, this one likely a beer rather than a potion. She looked up from her work to see the young man’s dejected entry. “Is something wrong, dear?”

He sat down on the chair. “I just can’t find a familiar. I’ve tried everything, but every animal says no.” He placed his elbows on the table and leaned his chin into his palms. “Should I go farther? Perhaps head to New Orleans and see what I can find there?”

“Perhaps,” the witch answered. “But perhaps there’s another solution to your problem.”

“What?” the apprentice asked.

“You’ve only been at this for a month, and if you’ve gone through every option, that means you’ve not built any relationships. You’ve just asked them to join you, and of course they said no because they thought you an abusive witch.” She put the pot atop her brew and pat the lid. “Whether you go to New Orleans or you stay here, it’s best to find a friend before you even think about asking for a permanent relationship.”

“You sound like someone giving dating advice.”

She chuckled. “I suppose it could be similar.”

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This was written for Alexander Eliot’s photo prompt, “Cats’ Eye.” This photo, provided by Mr. Eliot, was such a crisp and clean photo of a cat named Sam. I decided to use this opportunity to continue the story from earlier, wherein my younger apprentice learned to appreciate many forms of life and find satisfaction with his trainer.

Tea Ceremony

Tea Ceremony

The courtesan poured from the teapot into the fairness cup, mixing the water and steeped flavanols before splitting it into two dainty cups.

The client took a cup and sipped. “This ceremony soothes me.”

The courtesan nodded. “As it was designed to.”

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This was written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt #121teapot. I considered writing about the Teapot Dome scandal, but I just couldn’t fit it into 42 words! 😦

So here you go – hopefully something calm, soothing, and visual.

Photo by 五玄土 ORIENTO on Unsplash

The Things They Do to Me

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She tossed some of the powder onto the safe’s handle and brushed off excess, but the results came back as she expected. “Perp wore gloves,” she told the officer.

The uniformed man snorted. “Good lord. Sendin’ me a lady fingerprintist… the things they do to me.”

She pursed her lips, then ran out of the room. The cop laughed, thinking he’d sent her crying, but time ran short.

If she couldn’t solve the case from the perp’s traces, she could follow the money trail. Her dad had been a safebreaker – and she knew where he’d sell jewels and jade.

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This was written for the August 29th Carrot Ranch Challenge, safebreaker’s daughter. I couldn’t imagine a better picture than the one Charli provided, and I wrote a story that I thought the picture told. Perhaps it’s uncreative, but…

Anyway, I wanted to participate a little bit, but I’m still on semi-hiatus due to my hands feeling poorly. 😦 I may not respond to your comments immediately.

The Funkmaster

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One man’s vintage,
Another man’s junk –
Wanna buy it, sir?
Pack it in your trunk?
Gimme a Jackson,
And indulge in funk!

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This was written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt #120Vintage. 

Also, SORRY for accidentally publishing this yesterday. I meant to publish this today, August 25th.

Image by Gitti Lohr from Pixabay