Monthly Archives: May 2014

How to start a memoir

Victoria Zackheim teaches memoir and personal essay at UCLA, in the Writer’s Extension program. She has developed a straightforward approach to start writing a memoir.

(1) The first step is to outline a chronology of your life, year by year. This will get you into the memory of things.

(2) Once this is done, research any significant year. What else was happening in 1973 when your father died? Include anything that explains your state of mind or actions at the time, but no extraneous information.

(3) Next is the fun part. Refer to your outline to create a series of vignettes, short stories, poems, and personal essays. Keep going until you have a body of work— say 20-50 pieces.

(4) Sift through them. What is the theme? What have you learned? What is the message that you want to share?

Once you know where the memoir is going you can start to string the stories together.

Anne Perry and Victoria Zackheim were on tour in April 2014 promoting their latest books. They spent over three hours mentoring writers at the California Writers Club, Apple Valley branch. Their focus was on how to approach writing projects. Zackheim is an experienced editor and an author specializing in memoir and personal essays. Anne Perry is recognized as one of the world’s top 100 masters of crime and her series of detective novels are set in historical fiction.

Importance of self-editing

When you review your work, Zackheim, said, keep it organic. Look for a steady connection of thoughts, the easy movement of characters and the continuity of flow. Take a page of your writing and read it aloud, this is the best way to check for commas, if you read the comma, it should be there. Perry added that reading aloud helps find unintentional rhymes and rhythms, and set-ups where you inform the reader too much. Find what is broken, typically the where and when, and fix it. Circle adverbs and adjectives, 95% of them can be removed. Remember, the best description is that which keeps the flow of the story moving, not the description itself.

Anne Perry and Victoria Zackheim were on tour in April 2014 promoting their latest books. They spent over three hours mentoring writers at the California Writers Club, Apple Valley branch. Their focus was on how to approach writing projects. Zackheim is an experienced editor and an author specializing in memoir and personal essays. Anne Perry is recognized as one of the world’s top 100 masters of crime and her series of detective novels are set in historical fiction.

Importance of Character

Perry noted that crime stories, like most genres, have a formula. Her challenge is to let the audience figure out the mystery and not overwrite the details or and point out the obvious. Detecting has to work for the detective and the audience. The characters are at the core of the arc of the story. Readers must feel a change in the character as a result of A—Z. But remember, what happened before, the back story, is not as important as the character’s reactions to the present moment. Writers spend too much time detailing back story, descriptions or setting. Let the audience glean this information from the reactions of your characters. Do not forget the secondary characters either, Perry warned. The author should know their strengths and weaknesses, all the details of the character but only reveal details that are necessary to the flow of the plot. For a visual, Zackheim suggested cutting out pictures from a magazine. Perry said the characters should be identifiable by a few important details, mannerism, personality traits or faults: hair color, a clumsy person, and favorite foods, opinions. Keep it brief. Don’t focus on facial details; rather leave that for the reader. Use emotive phrases like “she walked like a body builder,” which will stick in the reader’s mind. “Remember,” Perry admonished. “You are writing for a story, not a police blotter!”

Anne Perry and Victoria Zackheim were on tour in April 2014 promoting their latest books. They spent over three hours mentoring writers at the California Writers Club, Apple Valley branch. Their focus was on how to approach writing projects. Zackheim is an experienced editor and an author specializing in memoir and personal essays. Anne Perry is recognized as one of the world’s top 100 masters of crime and her series of detective novels are set in historical fiction.

Importance of an Outline

If you know how the story begins, the flow through it’s story arc, and the end point, you will never have writer’s block because you know the steps to follow to the last chapter. An outline doesn’t have to be formal, fancy or detailed, but it must be completed before you start to edit or polish, otherwise you’ll get stuck or will have too many ideas and will never finish.

By outline, these seasoned authors mean a document of a completed story draft. Plotting by the seat of your pants is still an outline. An outline is a draft of the plot. It means no polishing or editing until you have the whole story on paper—from the beginning, straight to the end. A rubbish outline will do, said Perry. Once there’s an outline, the theme will become clearer. Often characters become more or less important and adjustments in the plot are allowed—re-write, re-write, re-write!

Anne Perry and Victoria Zackheim were on tour in April 2014 promoting their latest books. They spent over three hours mentoring writers at the California Writers Club, Apple Valley branch. Their focus was on how to approach writing projects. Zackheim is an experienced editor and an author specializing in memoir and personal essays. Anne Perry is recognized as one of the world’s top 100 masters of crime and her series of detective novels are set in historical fiction.