Was It Like this for You?

Author Beth Kephart
I had the pleasure of attending a mini workshop in memoir on Penn’s campus with Beth Kephart, a memoir teacher at the University of Pennsylvania.  Beth has written five memoirs each answering a different question in her life.  She has also written a new book about memoir writing:  Handling the Truth. 


            While I learned about universal theme in my “Write Your Memoir in Six Month” course with Brooke Warner and Linda JoyMyers, Beth added another element to memoir writing.  In order to engage the reader in memoir, whatever the topic (mine being a college journey), the memoirist needs to address the question “Was the experience like this for you?”


It’s not that the memoirist needs to state this question literally in the memoir, but the essence of the question and the memoirist’s answer to it should at least be implied through the writing.  Memoir needs to be more than autobiographical, more than the humor of raising a family while raising a mother’s education level in my case. 


Where others may have journeyed through college alone, in a sense, I took my family with me.  I need universal questions through which to filter my story.  To build suspense, I need to show the search for the answers to these questions through my writing, in my anecdotes, in my mind in order to offer the reader insight into any journey he or she may be planning. 


I need to present my memoir in ways to allow readers to enter upon the college journey.  I need to explore the inner self so that my reader can identify with me.  This sounds like the inner dialogue, which I am carefully attempting to incorporate into my memoir manuscript. 

There are many ways to bring a reader into your story.  Do you have any questions that you or your characters ask the reader of your story?  Feel free to offer any advice to keep the reader involved in the story. 

10 thoughts on “Was It Like this for You?”

  1. It was wonderful. We did two different mini writings about our choice of the few objects that Beth provided, and she was correct. The two separate writings, with totally different objects, were connected. Beth is a marvelous teacher of memoir.

    Thank you, Karen, for visiting my Adventures in Writing blog. Please stop by again.

  2. Memoir and fiction need the same elements–the readers must care about the characters, the story must keep moving, there needs to be believability, and so on. I think it must be hard to have our real lives fit all the elements of fiction. We can't play around with the details and plot with the same control.

  3. I agree with Theresa above. It must hook the reader and the reader must care about the characters. And it must be fast paced.

    All the best, Victoria!

  4. Yes they do, Theresa. I agree with everything you say. You cannot create scenes in memoir where there are none, but it is interesting to see how much of life can fit into some elements of fiction, like a scene in a movie, with tension, suspense, and visuals.

    Thank you so much, Theresa, for visiting my Adventures in Writing blog. Please stop by again.

  5. Absolutely, Nas. To keep readers interested in what's going on in memoir, you need to hook the readers' interests in what's going on. And even though the characters are real people in memoir, the writer needs to convey that realness to the reader without fictionalizing them. This is the difficult part.

    Thanks so much, Nas, for visiting my Adventures in Writing blog. Please stop by again.

  6. I'm crawling forward with revision, Michelle. Thanks for asking. I'm reading books on memoir and watching/listening to webinars and trying to find time to read other memoir. Of course, I'm working on other writing as well.

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