Memoir specialist Linda Hoye returns to Wrote By Rote with some more helpful information about writing memoir. Linda's previous post can be found here and is worth your time to read if you missed it. Since that post, her memoir Two Hearts: An Adoptee's Journey Through Grief to Gratitude has been published and is now available from Amazon. In the following post Linda offers some helpful tips for writing memoir.
The memoir genre has been described as a story about a slice of life. That slice can be horizontal, taking the reader through several years of the author’s life focusing a specific facet of that life, or it can be vertical, taking place in a succinct period of time.
Regardless of the type of slice, it’s important to be able to convey a strong sense of place and time in the story. Our memories can take us so far but often, especially if we’re writing about events that took place long ago, we need to rely on other things to take us, as writers, back to a time and place in order to convey that sense to the reader. Here are a few things I found helpful while working on Two Hearts.
Dmarie.com. On this site you can enter any date between 1800 and 2002 and get a list of top news headlines, price of a loaf of bread, the average wage, what the popular books were at the time, and, as applicable, the top songs and what was playing on TV and at the movies. You can take it a step farther and immerse yourself in the time by reading the books, listening to the songs, and watching the movies to really put you there.
“It is 1977, almost one year after my high school graduation, and Peter Frampton is begging for someone to “Show Me the Way” on his classic Frampton Comes Alive! album. I am eighteen and appear confident; for the most part, I’ve managed to stuff down and ignore the part of me that feels unworthy and unlovable. I have the rest of my life stretching out in front of me and am pretty sure I know the way and could show Mr. Frampton if he cared to ask me.”
Google Earth. It’s helpful during the memoir writing journey if you can go to the place where parts of the story took place. Standing in the same places, hearing the same sounds, smelling the same smells, and seeing the same sights evokes memories like nothing else. During my journey I was fortunately to travel back to the city where I grew up and the small prairie towns where my roots run deep. If it’s not possible to do this, or even to call to mind the experience after you’ve been there, Google Earth is invaluable. I virtually walked the route I took to school as a child and explored the city I grew in up many times during the writing process.
“I stop at Crescent Park and walk along the paths where memories meet me at every turn—the library where I felt at home as child, down by the river where Lori was once bitten by a cranky swan, the flowerbeds I had paid little attention to as a child but which somehow made their way into my unconscious memory all the same.”
You Tube. Believe it or not I found commercials for toys like Slinky and Spirograph, and TV shows like Bewitched that I watched as a child. Watching them helped me to write about the period of time, but also to go deeper into the thoughts and feelings of little girl Linda.
“We grow up watching Granny Clampett ride into Beverly Hills perched atop a rocking chair in the back of a rickety truck on Saturday nights, and we wonder if Gilligan will ever get off of the island. Lori imagines herself as Zorro and leaves little pieces of paper with a Z on them all over the house. I, on the other hand, want to grow up to be like the cool and confident Mrs. Peel on The Avengers.”
Now it’s your turn. What tools and tips do you use to help evoke a sense of time and place in your writing?
Linda Hoye is a writer, editor, adoptee, and somewhat-fanatical grandma. Her memoir, Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude will offer hope and inspiration to anyone who’s life has been touched by adoption. She currently lives in the state of Washington with her husband and their two Yorkshire terriers, but Saskatchewan, Canada will always be her heart’s home.