Memoir Writing – What is the meaning of your stories?

After online church this morning, I was thinking bigger about Jesus as storyteller, as he was the master of parables. Pastor Katie said, “If we look for one clear meaning, we limit the story of ourselves, of God’s kingdom, and possibilities.” In the parables, “a seed is not just a seed.”

What is the meaning of YOUR stories? When we write memoir, we are told to find the message we are trying to get across and stick with that focus, avoiding distracting details and side stories. At my first Zoom presentation the other day on life writing for seniors, I mentioned finding this focus. It may be broad, such as what your childhood was like during that time in history and society. It may be more focused, as how you overcame a certain major difficulty or adventure—the “hero’s journey,” as writers call it. I also told the attendees to just start writing and then see what comes of it, figure out how to organize the stories later—less daunting that way, too.

Memoirs do need to focus and have that raison d’etre, the reason to be. You are leaving a record of your life and personality, but are you also intending to educate about lived history (vs the impersonal broad brushstrokes of textbook nonfiction), to inspire others to persevere through whatever their own difficulties are, to build understanding and empathy for others whose shoes they don’t wear, or to entertain with your funny anecdotes or exciting travel memories—the biggest reasons to write your life. Often more than one, or even all, these reasons can be in one memoir.

Back to the Sunday sermon. You may have an overall message in your mind of what you want readers to get out of your stories, but there is more than one way to “get it.” A seed is not just a seed. A rule of writing, especially for children’s books, is to NEVER TELL THE READER WHAT TO THINK. Tell the story of what happened, but allow space for readers to feel their own reactions and discover their own meanings—not yours. They will enjoy your story more when they can use their own brains as they travel your life with you and make their own discoveries.

Once upon a time, she sowed sunflower seeds…

Storytelling: There is more than one way to “get it”


About moonbridgebooks

Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; author of Poems That Come to Mind, for caregivers of dementia patients; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), poetry, and cats
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