Yes, even in memoir, the protagonist needs to be flawed. Flawed in her understanding, her logic, and her actions. Other characters may be flawed as well. This can be difficult for writers. In memoir, you are writing about yourself. And it needs to be true!
Okay, you may say. But which flaws do I include? How do I know which events to put into the memoir story and which ones to leave out?
We choose the flaw/s and events to include that pertain to the point we are trying to make with the memoir story as a whole.
This is why you need to know the overall point of the memoir. What are you trying to show or prove? Which insight do you wish to share with the reader? It is very important that you know where you’re going in your memoir story. Knowing the point of your story will save you from writing pages and pages that go nowhere. By knowing the overall point, you also know whether you’ve made it or proved it through your writing, and—most importantly—you know where to end the memoir story.
This is true whether you are writing fiction or essays or memoir.
But trying to find the point to convey through your memoir can be difficult to discover. It can take memoirists and writers a long time to find. At least it did with me because I overthink everything—one of my many flaws! And I’m still not sure if I have it right.
When you start out, in fiction or memoir, your point may be vague; like, forgiveness takes time or love conquers all. The point of my memoir about attending college as a mother of five is “to seize opportunity so as not to be left with regret.” I’d been instructing my children to do this ever since they were born. But maybe the point needed to be a bit more specific to my story. I came up with: “Don’t let fear and doubt stop you from taking a chance at seizing your dream.” Still kind of heavy.
The flaw I’m tracking and dramatizing with this memoir is my inner struggle with inferiority, that I was not good enough to attend college. I need to show this through concrete events in my life. Much of this is through backstory, beginning with the origin scene. We’ll address that in another post.
Writers need to consider their readers. In considering the readers of my college memoir, I believe feelings of inferiority are universal. But is it deep enough or specific enough for my memoir story purposes? I need to ponder this. Your thoughts on this would be beneficial to my memoir progress.
As for seizing opportunity and having a second chance at my dream of a college degree, I learned about community college from another parent who was attending part time. This seems ridiculous now in the age of the ubiquitous internet, but back in 1998, when I was knee deep in kids—five, remember, the oldest with social and learning difficulties—this was new information to me. When I attended high school, going to college meant going away to study, fulltime.
In the story present—the time when the memoir story opens—I thought college had passed me by. I had no time for it now. Then the Ivy League showed itself on the horizon in scholarship form because of awards earned at the community college level. And Inferiority moved into my home to live with me—permanently—taunting me daily: The Ivy League? You? A mother? Are you crazy? You got lucky in community college.
Memoirists and writers may start with a general point to their story and then make it specific to the protagonist. Why her? Why now? Why does it matter to her?
This is where specific backstory comes into play. Through backstory, we find the why of the present story you are telling. We’ll address this next month. Please feel free to ask me anything about memoir and I will explain what I know through my blog posts.
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32 thoughts on “Flawed Characters in Memoir #AuthorToolboxBlogHop”
My character's flaws are based on the baggage they carry with them or their backstory. Probably the same thing. 🙂
Anna from elements of emaginette
When I first started writing, I found considering my readers a hard task. Then I started to pay attention to what I liked or didn't like about books I was reading, and this helped my think about readers as I was writing. Very interesting blog today 🙂
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Anna! You are right. Characters are a product of their own personal backstory. And so are their flaws.
Thanks so much for your comment. It means a lot to me. Enjoy your day!
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Kristina! Considering your readers while drafting your story is difficult. You have a great idea here about paying attention to what you like when reading yourself.
Thanks so much for your kind words. I truly appreciate them. Enjoy your day!
Interesting points again. It sounds like you have found a good theme, origin scene and flaw! Managing to incorporate all that smoothly into a memoir is such a daunting task for me and something I never knew was needed. I thought I could just whip out my story as a memoir and that would be it. Man, was I mistaken. 🙂
It seems that in any kind of story, your characters need flaws. Personally, I think your sense of inferiority and your drive to overcome it is a perfectly good undertone. It's something many parents face, my sister included.
It is so true that your characters must be flawed but you need to focus your writing to highlight the flaw that relates/ heightens your story. I think this can be difficult in fiction. Creating that same focus from real life experiences, picking and choosing events and how to frame those events, for memoir adds another level of difficulty. However, the clearer the focus the stronger your story will be. As for your memoir, I think inferiority is a relatable topic, and one many people struggle with. I look forward to reading more about your processes and experiences in writing memoir!
I've never thought about it from this angle, that memoirists need to contain the flaws within the scope of what's trying to be conveyed through story. Because you're right, I have so many flaws, that I could probably write a whole book about them. I often feel inferior, but I wonder sometimes if others don't feel this way.
I agree with EMA Timar: the flaws that are most important are those that the main character is tested on in the story. That is where the character grows, by facing those flaws, and that is where the potential lies for the change that drives the story.
As for a sense of inferiority, it is a subset of fear, so it could be useful to explore fear more widely. Sometimes a feeling of inferiority is tied to fear of failure; other times to fear of success. Or maybe it's both. It could also be tied to fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, fear of creating distance from our current life and relationships … but you will know best, because it's your story!
That's so true, Liesbet. Many writers feel memoir is just recounting what has happened in life. Boy! I was surprised, too. Memoir done right is truly a daunting task.
It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing, Liesbet. Have a great day!
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Mica! Thank you so much for your vote of confidence. It truly means the world to me. Enjoy your day!
Thank you so much for your kind words and insight, Erika. Everything you said is true. And that truth is what makes writing so difficult.
Always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. I hope all is going well.
It's so true, Raimey. As in fiction, the flaws in memoir need to be focused on the story and insight you are trying to convey through story.
Thank you for your kind words here on Adventures in Writing, and thanks for creating Author Toolbox so that writers may share information on the craft of writing with each other.
Yes to all of the above. I have delved into my fear of failure. It’s what kept me from attempting college before. My father said I wasn’t college material—and I believed him. As for a fear of success, I was afraid what that might bring as I was a non-traditional college student, one who had a family to care for. I carried more than just books around when I attended college.
The unknown is what holds many back from attempting a dream. I was no different. As for creating a distance from my current life at the time of attending college, one can never go back to the way she was before growing through college attendance. I’m a much different person from the mother I was before college. I believe this is a positive.
Jennifer, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your insight here at Adventures in Writing. It is appreciated more than you realize.
"you need to know the overall point of the memoir"
THIS! I have many authors come to me in the beginning stages of writing their memoir, and when I ask them what is their memoir is about, they just say… my life.
Hi! I like this. One might think memoir simply means tell your story, but there are still the same elements as fiction-and how much more difficult because they're real people! Great insight. 🙂
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing. There is much confusion as to what memoir is. Memoir is a slice of your life–not the entire life story. Your whole life story is autobiography.
All the luck with your writing endeavors. Thanks so much for your comment here on Adventures in Writing. It's greatly appreciated. Enjoy your day!
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Leslie. Like I said above, memoir is a slice of your life–not the entire life story. You are right. Memoir needs to have the same elements as fiction.
Thanks so much for your kind words and comment here on Adventures in Writing. It's greatly appreciated. Enjoy your day!
Hi Victoria. I love your purpose with your memoir. Especially as a mother myself it's hard to juggle it all. I love the questions you pose. Why is it relevant to her? I think considering the reader is huge. We need to write to what our reader expects. Lovely post 🙂
Characters need flaws to make them believable — and interesting! I like to use the blind spot to amp up tension too (and it lets the reader in on something the main character doesn't know or refuses to acknowledge).
Great post 🙂
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Erika. Thank you so much for following my blog. And thanks for your vote of confidence and kind words. Asking the right questions can help writers focus and move forward in their story.
Thanks again for your comment here on Adventures in Writing. Please stop by again. Enjoy your weekend!
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Ronel. Thanks for your kind words. Great idea to consider the blind spot of the protagonist or character. A character refusing to acknowledge her blind spot will certainly "amp up tension."
Thanks again for your comment here on Adventures in Writing. Please stop by again. Enjoy your weekend!
Hi Victoria – I'd hate to write Memoir … way too many flaws! I am writing my back story … because the family has interesting facets … so there's story or ten there – bringing the past towards the future and what I encounter/know about the family connections. I think if you've achieved something in life – ie an author, or an artist – then a Memoir can describe so much … probably written in conjunction with a ghost writer/partner … to iron out the rough patches.
Interesting – writing your experiences, especially with your family experiences of raising a family and trying to fit in studying and writing … it's great it'll be there for the children and grandchildren … cheers Hilary
Your family stories about connections would be an interesting read for sure, Hilary.
All writing needs a critique partner and an editor to "iron out the rough patches" as you say. Writers sometimes can't see what's missing from their story on the page because they can imagine everything in their heads. They know things the reader doesn’t if it’s not on the page.
Let me tell you, raising a family while attending college is no picnic. It is a long and tedious journey to be made only by the brave.
It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing, Hilary. Thanks for your comment. Enjoy your weekend!
Awesome post. Without flaws there is no conflict and without conflict in a story-it makes for boring read. So flaws is a must to make interesting reading.
Absolutely right, Nas! Thanks so much for your confirmation. And thanks for your kind words. They truly mean a lot. It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your week!
Really interesting to read this about memoirs. I've never really thought of writing one, but I always try to understand various kinds of storytelling. So I found this very helpful. 🙂
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Misha. Thank you so much for your kind words. They are greatly appreciated. As I’ve said, memoir is a story that is true. And that’s what makes it so difficult to tell. Memoirists need to make the story interesting and share insight at the same time.
Thanks again for visiting Adventures in Writing and leaving a note. I really appreciate it.
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