A to Z Theme 2016

For my 2016 A to Z theme I used a meme that I ran across on the blog of Bridget Straub who first saw it on the blog of Paula Acton. This meme is a natural for me to use on my memoir blog. It's an A to Z concept and it's about me. No research and nothing complicated. I'm given twenty six questions or topics to discuss that are about me.

In April I kept my posts short and uncomplicated. In the midst of it all you might learn a few things about me that you didn't previously know.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

What Oscar Nominated Biopics can Teach You about Writing Memoirs

       A big thanks to my dear friend Nicole Ayers, no stranger to my blog readers as she has filled in for me a number of times on nearly all of my blogs.  In this post she connects her specialty--movies--with writing memoir.

What Oscar Nominated Biopics can Teach You 

about Writing Memoirs

       Biopics and memoirs have one of the most powerful elements in common that makes a huge difference in how someone’s life is presented to other people – stories. From childhood to adulthood, we tend to migrate toward the telling of real-life accounts by everyday folk, unsung heroes and famous faces from all walks of life. They can be as thrilling as “Catch Me If You Can” starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, as insightful as “Boys Don’t Cry” starring Hilary Swank and “Hotel Rwanda” starring Don Cheadle or as triumphant as “Lincoln” starring Daniel Day Lewis -- so long as these narratives place us into a world that we can either relate to or one in which we are eager to explore.
Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln

         Any author who is seeking tips on how to structure his or her memoir can borrow a page from Hollywood’s playbook of biopics – the magic is in the delivery of a story, or two. As a writer, your job is to figure out what story you want to tell readers and then decide how it will play out on paper. While great memoirs span the author’s entire life – or at least a large portion of it – some of the most inspiring memoirs are centered on one particular aspect of his or her whole story. Many biopics that come out of tinsel town illustrate this bull’s eye approach very well and you can do the same thing with your memoir.

Write Your Life, In Point by Point Replays

       Make a list of certain milestones or points in your life when something big happened that shaped the person that you have become. If you won a top honor, traveled the world while raising children geniuses, figured out how to co-parent long distance, or successfully switched careers during a mid-life crisis, etc. whatever it is, add it to the list. Include anything and everything that stands out, rather than placing sole emphasis on the gains or positive experiences.

       Some of the events that played a major role in where you are today could be among difficult, painful, embarrassing, hopeless, sad or outright negative moments that you want to forget. Those memories, if any, however, can shed light on a larger matter that is bigger than your own personal experience or even inspire someone to take action towards creating a better world for future generations. Your trials and tribulations also have the ability to help another person realize that he or she is not alone in their challenging times – and can survive adversity – or at least find a way to deal with it. When your list is complete, pick one of these items to use as a point of reference and then build your memoir around it.
My week with Marilyn

       “Lincoln” directed by Steven Spielberg focused on one story and one story only -- the President’s efforts to end slavery while fighting a war. This movie wasn’t about anything else – not about Abraham Lincoln’s eating habits, his recreational activities, how he wore his clothes, and so on. “My Week with Marilyn” starring Michelle Williams is centered on filmmaker Colin Clark’s story about his experience babysitting and being a go-fer for a movie production starring iconic actress, Marilyn Monroe. It does not span Clark or Monroe’s entire careers nor does it delve into the screen siren’s red carpet appearances or thoroughly examine her personal life. Both “Lincoln” and “My Week with Marilyn” are biopics that tell a story about one particular event, memory or experience that stands out in the life of the main character(s).
Ken Ilgunas

         Duke University graduate Ken Ilgunas’ memoir “Walden on Wheels” is a prime example of how a single experience in your life can be expanded upon to create one story that reads just as well, if not better, as a book containing several different stories. In “Walden on Wheels,” Ilgunas chronicles the two years he spent traveling and doing odd jobs to pay off his student loans, before living in a van on Duke University’s campus while pursuing a Master’s degree. Instead of taking readers on a ride through his birth to where he is today, the author tells us the story that takes place around how his frugal practices and bare-bones circumstances helped him tackle debt.

Write Your Life, In Chapters

        We all have different “chapters” of our life that start and end; some that even begin again – identified with and filed away under all sorts of labels such as age, career growth, menopause, relationship status, marital status, parenthood and related stages that shape our whole story.  Wrap your memoir around several major events by creating a story for each chapter, or sub-chapter, in the book -- if the aforementioned one-story approach just won’t do justice to the legacy you want to have. Hollywood’s more standard biopics seem to have this method down to a science and we need not to look any further than films such as “Ray” starring Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington and Regina King, to understand how it works.

       This biopic about musician Ray Charles shows his life experiences from childhood and on, all the way on up to the man that music fans around the world listened to on their radio. Scene by scene, audiences are shown stories about his battles with blindness, raising a family, drug addiction, juggling different women, signing record-breaking deals with music executives, touring in the segregated south, racism and friendship turmoil. Just as the notable and life-changing events in “Ray” show various aspects of this singer’s story, the chapters in your memoir can take readers through the many life experiences that you’ve had.

        A single chapter could span the process of how you got from point A to point B, such as “When I got Cancer,” “The Day He Killed My Dog,” “The Fabulous Sister I Never Knew I Had” or “How I Gave Birth in a Gym Locker Room” before moving on to the next chapter of “When I Bought the Homeless Guy Coffee and Learned to Stop Being in a Hurry,” or something like that. In Brad Warner’s memoir “Zen Wrapped in Karma, Dipped in Chocolate,” he shares his experiences on traveling as a punk rock musician, Japanese movie studio representative and Zen monk who encounters a dwindling marriage – all in one book. The memoir, however, is one in a series of books that share stories about some of the wildest, unbelievable, shocking, confusing and funny events that you’d likely not ever see in a movie – at least, not an R-rated one.

       Warner breaks his chapters down in easy-to-digest chapters that cover one story that is sometimes a direct result of the previous one and a prime lead-in to the one that follows. He even has a specific chapter about the time in which he had to hold his urine for 40 minutes or so before finally going to the bathroom. Although this chapter is not solely focused on needing to pee badly, he uses the experience to explain some of the protocols and insights about sitting meditation that readers might not have known before picking up the book. Let this be a tip that you can use small stories to support a larger story in your memoir – especially if the bigger one is difficult for readers to understand or involve concepts that they have yet to get a handle on.

What kind of stories would YOUR memoir share with its readers?

Nicole Ayers writes about mainstream and independent films at The Madlab Post. She is also a Co-Host of the #atozchallenge and the Post A-to-Z Road Trip. Find her @MadlabPost on Twitter. 

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. My poetry is mostly based on my life's experiences or events happening around me, I nay not have an exciting life at the moment but there is always something to write about.


  2. Hi Lee and Nicole - interesting post Nicole .. inadvertently I read Baz Lurhrmann's piece on how he put together The Great Gatsby into the film .. I've never read the book, yet that piece introduced me to other works and films .. now I need to read and see them ...

    I think when and if I write my memoir it'll include history and wrap that around the story of my ancestors ...

    Fascinating to read this ..

    Cheers Hilary

  3. I agree with, "writing your life in chapters". But I prefer to think of it as short stories. :)

    I took my one summer working as a waitress and wrote about it twenty-six times for the A-Z Challenge at The Ruralhood. So, I know it can be done--writing a book about one incident in life--although I didn't write a book. :)

  4. I haven't lead as interesting a life as some, but it was still pretty cool. I'd probably focus on my Deadhead years. Or everything leading up to my coming back east to be with my love.

  5. Dee Lee, I've copied this posting and put it in a Word document so that I can refer to it again and again as I consider the memoir I hope to write. Thank you and thank Nicole so much for sharing this valuable information. Peace.

  6. I thank you all so far for the comments. My special thanks to Nicole for providing the post while I'm away.


  7. Yvonne,
    Poetry is a creative way to chronicle the experiences that stand out to you...oftentimes, that form of writing can be easier or more enjoyable for people to read, than say, an entire volume of books :)

    Realizing that exciting moments make life what it is could be the key to seeing our lives as more fascinating than we would have originally thought. Thanks for commenting!

    Thank you for your response to this post; Isn't it sweet how one work can peak our interest in other works?! That is what's so great about literature and the stories that people tell, no matter what form in which we receive them. Like you, I didn't read The Great Gatsby. I did see the film though. It sounds like your basing a memoir on ancestors will be rich in its coverage of where you came from.

    Based on your comment, there are two memoirs that could be writting about your life. Part one and Part two...that is, hoping you'll do a memoir or chapter on your return to the East. What you might not find interesting about your life could wow a reader...we never know how our stories and/or experiences can affect or inspire someone else :)

    The Bookmarking feature on your internet browser is a great resource for saving blogs, posts, websites, etc. that you want to return to for reference....and then there's also Pinterest. I've tended to get out of hand with the latter. Best wishes on your memoir. I'm glad to know that reading this post has shown to be of use to you for the purpose of shaping your life story.

    Thanks for welcoming my guest post on Wrote By Rote. I hope you are enjoying your time away. I'm also out of town and shall return soon.

  8. I never thought of writing my life in bullet points. Interesting.


Tell your story. Express your thoughts. We want to hear from you. This blog no longer accepts comments from "Anonymous"--That guy is really starting to bug this blog. If you want to leave me a comment then please register if you aren't already--it's easy to do and I really want to hear from you.

Arlee Bird