A. Choosing and developing characters
- pick minimum characters to convey scene
- use the questions from the characterization, Exercise 3
(subtext). What is going on underneath the text. For example, if on the day your sister dies, you are buying a pair of gloves, the subtext of her death would greatly affect the way you felt, even if the action of buying gloves is ostensibly everyday. A good autobiography is a mirror of the way human beings behave. The writer’s job is to provide what is also underneath the behavior of human beings.
- give each a purpose in a scene
- remember events trigger action, action leads to discovery
- use narrative summary sparingly—it is a connector or a door into a scene, never the substance—see your life as a movie (dramatic scenes linked by narrative summary)
B. Dialogue “do’s and don’ts
1. point of view for each character (attitude)
2. impression of natural speech
3. use dramatic structure to shape the sequence of
what is said
1. let characters make long speeches
2. put in dead dialogue
3. write dialogue in which nothing is left unspoken
C. Composite voice of autobiography (the person you are today versus the person you were then–both are critical)
D. Other techniques worth exploring through your reading of others
2. incorporate external events
3. stretching and condensing
4. composite characters/scenes
5. changing vantage points
- flashbacks (juxtaposition)
- altering order to build drama
E. Disclaimers (to give you more freedom to tell the truth)
Some names and biographic details in this book have been altered.
This book is fiction though based upon events that really happened.
Pick one of your scenes (initial or interim). Choose a setting that reflects theme and one–like Getting Closer–in which they are physically doing something. Who are the characters you will use in the scene? What is the subtext? What is each striving for?
Write the scene. It helps if the people in it are involved is some kind of activity other than just talking (such as cooking in Getting Closer). This is a first draft, it is more important to write continuously than “correctly” or artistically. Write from your feelings, creating a scene that kindles them for you. Be brutally honest. You can go back later and polish the result, what you are after here is the raw energy and sharp detail that can’t be added when you edit.
“If you tell the whole truth, the complete picture, if you include all sides of a person, the dark and the light, then it is possible to tell even ugly truths about someone without committing character assassination–if your motive is not to condemn but to understand. It is not the objectivity of the reporter you should strive for, but a human treatment of the truth, a feeling for the vulnerability of human beings.
“Autobiographic narrative is more than simply remembering on paper. it is a second chance, a chance to get it right. Not that you change events, not that you don’t write about helplessly watching your sister drown with all the pain and guilt you experienced, but that this time you are on your own side, even in pain and failure. Now you can tell the story with insight and find the meaning of the single experience within the context of your whole life. Remembering one’s suffering from the perspective of acquired wisdom is different from simply replaying it.
“Autobiographic stories don’t require happy endings, but they do require a reason for being, a purpose, Knowing the end of the story means that even if a painful memory temporarily casts a pall over your present while you are writing it–and it well may–it is only a point in the story, not the entire story.”