|On a journey to a better
beginning for the memoir
Beginnings are the most important part of books, I feel, be it memoir or fiction. Writers lose sleep over this.
*Yawn* [Excuse me.]
Writers need to pull readers into their stories. Up till now, I’ve been starting my memoir with the decision to begin college. With what my life was like before I started college.
I understand the in medias res concept, opening the story in the middle of the action. I open chapter one of my memoir with a crucial scene from a YA short story I had published in Cricket Magazine, but I intersperse it with motherly duties to show my conflicting time: writer/mother. Then I [seem to] dump the reader into the reality of picking up the children from two different schools on a rainy day. I allow the reader to interpret the children’s personalities through dialogue and interaction or offering one line quips that speak volumes about them. Still, I can’t help but think this is a clumsy way to introduce my children to the reader.
While I ask what I feel are probing questions about myself in an attempt to convince myself to sign up for courses at the local community college, I wonder if maybe my present first chapter should be a prologue instead, minus the opening writing scene, of course. What have you found the purpose of prologues to be in books? Reading memoir, my experience has shown that some memoirs have them and others don’t, and that these prologues tell of the essence of the book.
Chapter two starts with my toting the children along with me as I sign up for courses at the community college. Perhaps I could show the children’s personalities there in that scene. Maybe this is a better way to show in medias res, the actual beginning of my college journey. Jump right into the journey instead of thinking about it. Instead of showing what my life was like before I started college.
Do you feel there is a need to show the pastoral setting of my life before the decision to attend college? I do offer glimpses of my life with the family throughout the college journey as it affects my journey. Thanks for any advice you may offer.
14 thoughts on “Beginnings: As in Where to Begin My Memoir”
I just started reading a book that had a prologue. It's an integral part of the storyline later so it is necessary while still being entertaining. I think it's a tricky balance as to whether to use one or not.
I don't know that you need to show the pastoral setting of your life extensively. I guess it depends on how much it affects or is integrated into the latter part of the book. Hard to say – every situation is different. I'm not much help, am I? lol 🙂
You are a tremendous help, Karen. Thank you so much for visiting my Adventures in Writing blog and leaving some insight. You are correct. It is a tricky balance as to the necessity of a prologue. It must indeed be integral to the storyline. I do show my homelife during college and how I made it work throughout the memoir. The present first chapter shows the peacefulness of a full life as a mother of five and helps the reader understand–I hope–the gravity of a decision to go to college. Again, Karen, you are very helpful to me in the understanding and writing of my memoir about attending college as a mother of five. Thank you.
I really like that you do include your home life with you going to college. It gives depth to the story and your stories are not only funny but inspirational. You'll probably give courage to other mothers to start their education with or without toting the kiddies with them. Love your stories.
Most agents and editors will say to start when the change happens. That could be when you decided to go to school or got the acceptance letter. It would be a way to show a before and after.
A common way to handle this is to start chapter 1 in the middle of the action, and in chapter 2 include some backstory. But in general, authors need to show far less backstory than they might be tempted to include.
In this case, the contrast between your old life and your new one will probably show itself as the action evolves.
Thank you, Marie, for this vote of confidence. I do agree that my home life is a part of my college experience. And it is in there. At this time, I was trying to understand whether it was necessary as an opening to the memoir. Thanks for visiting Adventures in Writing, Marie. Always a pleasure to chat with you.
Thank you for sharing your knowledge here, Theresa. It is appreciated more than you realize. Yes. Start the story when the change occurs. At this time, Chapter one begins with the decision to go, thought based. I wasn't sure if it was exciting enough. Chapter two begins with the action of signing up for classes with the children in tow. Thank you again for sharing your expertise with me here on Adventures in Writing, Theresa.
Thank you so much for this valuable advice, Jennifer. I agree that chapter 1 needs to start in the middle of the action. Place the backstory—in my case, how my life was before deciding to attend college—in chapter 2 sounds like a better plan. No heavy backstory. This I understand. I drop a snippet or two of backstory here or there in the memoir to explain why I didn’t attend college right out of high school, but the memoir is not drenched in backstory. I hope the tension of being a mother in college is shown consistently—but not constantly—throughout the memoir. Thanks again, Jennifer, for visiting Adventures in Writing. It is greatly appreciated.
I agree with jumping in with an action scene. Sprinkle in the back story later. Sounds like you know what you are doing already. 🙂 go with your gut.
Thank you so much for this, Terri. Yes, with the help of you wonderful visitors to Adventures in Writing, I have thought about your comments and my writing post and have come to the decision that I do need a new beginning. One jumping in to the action of the narrative. Wait for chapter 2 for any backstory as to how my life was before college. Thank you for visiting my Adventures in Writing blog, Terri. It is greatly appreciated.
I'm not sure a prologue would work for a memoir yet if I were reading it, I'd want to know what your life was like before you made the decision, what was it that prompted the decision? But then I'm always accused of starting slow in my novels and I admit I prefer stories that build up to things rather than jumping right into the action. It doesn't need to be a long slow build up for sure but something to help the reader get to know you.
Now you see, Karen, that's the way I am, too. I was just worried that, not being famous, no one would be interested in a typical mom deciding to attend college until they got in to the many adventures I went through raising five children and trying to cope with studying, writing papers, creating presentations and videos for college. Thank you so much for leaving this advice on Adventures in Writing. It's really appreciated.
Recently I attended some workshops at writing conferences. All the presenters said to start when action starts. Start when something out of ordinary happens.
Thank you so much for this, Nas. Yes, I've heard that, too. Begin when the day is different for the main character. Thanks for leaving a note on my Adventures in Writing blog. It's greatly appreciated.