I have yet another fantastic guest blogger with me today, this time discussing a super important issue I know a lot of memoir writers need to hear. They might not want to, but it's essential. So, please welcome author Ruth Clare to the blog!
Narrowing the Focus of Your Memoir
Many people want to write a memoir because they have a big story to tell. But there is a big difference between needing to write something for personal reasons, and crafting a story that will find a home in the market place.
Most memoir writers do not struggle to find material, rather to get rid of it. But get rid of it you must. If you want to create a publishable book, you have to be able to separate yourself from content that is important to you as an individual to bow down to the story you are trying to tell.
But when so many moments of your life seem worthy of attention, how do you narrow your focus?
My advice on this boils down to two essential points.
1. Kill your darlings
I am sure most people have heard this little gem before, but for those who haven’t, this idea relates to getting rid of any wonderfully shiny or brilliantly entertaining pieces of writing that you may deeply love, but which don’t advance the story you are trying to tell. This can be especially hard when writing a memoir. The darlings you might be killing may be deeply personal events. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t write about them. It does mean, if you are serious about creating clarity for your reader, putting them into a separate folder and using them in a different way at a different time.
When I was writing my book, there was one analogy I thought showed a depth to my poetic soul that would blow the minds of people reading it. I tried about twenty different ways to weave that sucker into my writing, but alas, the language of that piece just didn’t work with the voice I wrote in, so I had to let it go. I still think it is the perfect way of describing what happened, but as I would have had to change the entire voice of the narrator to make it work (something I seriously considered doing as I loved it so much), I ended up burning it as an offering to the Writing Gods, and having a memorial for it on my website instead.
2. Your life as argument
I heard a piece of advice (from a podcast I listened to years ago and can no longer find) that helped me enormously when it came time to edit my manuscript. The wise person being interviewed said she saw memoir as a piece of non-fiction writing where you are making an argument for something, and your life story just happens to be an illustration of the point you are trying to make.
The example she gave was that someone could write a memoir making the argument: life is better when you share it with a cat. With this as your structural backbone, you could then draw examples from your life that demonstrated the point you are trying to make.
When I went about applying her idea to my own book, it took me months of driving myself bananas to come up with something that worked. I had stories from my childhood, stories from veterans I had interviewed about their war experience, research into PTSD, The Vietnam War and the psychological impact of war. Every day I asked myself, how the hell does this all fit together? What do I want people to understand after reading my book?
I decided the ‘argument’ I was trying to make was: If we don’t look after veterans, it is not just them, but their families who pay the price.
This was a very effective way to separate out the stories that needed to be included in my book from the ones that didn’t. That’s not to say it was easy, but I loved the way this concept stopped my memoir from being only about myself as an individual and broadened it into something larger and richer.
A memoir is not a journal. It is something you are writing for an audience. If you can’t make tough decisions about what belongs and what doesn’t, you will never create the clarity necessary to transform a bunch of stories into a book.
Ruth Clare has been a professional writer since 2004. Her memoir, Enemy: a daughter’s story of how her father brought the Vietnam War home was published in March 2016 by Penguin Books. She has also recently completed the manuscript for a young adult novel called Hiding in Plain Sight.
Woohoo! I'm delighted to bring you a fab cover reveal today for the even fabber London Hale. Check it out...
Publishing on May 2, 2017, Daddy’s Best Friend is the debut title for author London Hale. The book is the first in the Temperance Falls series and launches a world of naughty fantasies and taboo romances set on a small island in one of the Great Lakes. She’s temptation personified Nathan had always been more than just my dad’s friend. I never thought he’d see me as an adult, especially not after avoiding me for so long. But one hug, one moment feeling every inch of him against me, shattered that illusion. Consequences no longer mattered—I was eighteen, and I was willing to risk everything for my shot with him. He’s not going to resist anymore I never should’ve seen Eve as more than my best friend’s daughter. As a cop, I knew it was wrong. It was my job to protect her from guys like me. Chasing her could cost me my career—not to mention the only family I’d ever known—but I couldn’t hold back another second. One taste, and I wanted her. To hell with the fallout. HERE to enter. London Hale is the combined pen name of writing besties Ellis Leigh and Brighton Walsh. Between them, they’ve published more than thirty books in the contemporary romance, paranormal romance, and romantic suspense genres. Ellis is a USA Today bestselling author who loves coffee, thinks green Skittles are the best, and prefers to stay in every weekend. Brighton is multi-published with Berkley, St. Martin’s Press, and Carina Press. She hates coffee, thinks green Skittles are the work of the devil, and has never heard of a party she didn’t want to attend. Don’t ask how they became such good friends or work so well together—they still haven’t figured it out themselves. Sign up for the Temperance Falls Gazette to get up to date information on all things happening on the island!
I am super ridiculously late to the party (actual cover reveal was April 11), but nevertheless I am here! And I'm delighted to share with you the gorgeous, dribble-inducing cover of my wonderful friend Emma Wicker's forthcoming novel These Simple Scars! This book is amazing and any contemporary romance lovers should definitely go pre-order it now because it's only 99c/p!
Anyway, here it is...
These Simple Scars
by Emma Wicker
Publication date: May 8th 2017
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Sometimes, the worst scars are the ones that can’t be seen.
After fleeing her abusive father, Faith’s goal is to find a job and earn enough to finally be able to live in safety. When she ends up stranded in the sleepy town of Silver, Georgia, it’s not long before she meets sexy mechanic Garrett. His willingness to help her one minute then dismiss her the next, leave Faith confused by this guarded and irresistible man.
Although Garrett has left the military, the war returned home with him. An attraction to the new girl in town takes him by surprise, but if he’s to keep his scars hidden, Faith is no-go. His heart tells him to trust, but his mind is determined to get the better of him.
As the pair deal with their wounds, tragedy threatens to rip them apart. Supported by new friends, Garrett and Faith wrestle with their pasts and an unexpected love they fear won’t last.
(99c preorder only, going up to 2.99 upon release)
It's Monday! And I'm delighted to welcome a fantastic blogger and writer today, Mr Ryan Lanz! He has this most amazing blog that's so informative and helpful if you're a writer, so, you know, check it out!
Anyhow, here's his words of wisdom for you on this fine new week!
The Do's and Don'ts of Dialogue Tags
Writers use dialogue tags constantly. In fact, we use them so often that readers all but gloss over them. They should be invisible. However, there are ways to misuse them and make them stand out. In an effort to avoid that, let’s take a closer look at dialogue tags. Toward the end of “Tag travesties” is something I sorely wish someone had told me before I started writing.
Why do we use dialogue tags?
The simple answer is that we use them to indicate who’s speaking. In visual media, such as movies or television, the viewer can easily tell who’s talking by lip movement and camera angles. When reading a book, obviously that’s not an option.
There are certainly ways to misuse dialogue tags. When I was a new writer, I felt compelled to overwrite. I ‘m sure every new writer goes through a version of this. I observed how successful writers used simple tags like “said/asked” and thought to myself, that’s boring. I’m going to be an awesome writer by making them more interesting. You don’t have to admit it aloud, writers, but we all know that most of us have. Let’s look at an example of this:
Hank crossed the room and sat down. “We should have never waited this long for a table,” he seethed, leaning over to glare at her.
“If you wanted a better spot, you should have called ahead for a reservation,” Trudy returned pointedly.
“Well, perhaps if you didn’t take so long to get ready, I could have,” he countered dryly.
Can you imagine reading an entire book like that? *shiver*
So why do new writers feel the urge to be that . . . creative with their dialogue tags? Back in the beginning, I thought the typical tags of “said/asked” were too boring and dull. It didn’t take me long to realize that dull (in this context) is the point.
Image your words as a window pane of glass, and the story is behind it. Your words are merely the lens that your story is seen through. The thicker the words, the cloudier the glass gets. If you use huge words, purple prose, or crazy dialogue tags, then all you’re doing is fogging up the glass through which your reader is trying to view your story. The goal is to draw as little attention to your actual words as possible; therefore, you keep the glass as clear as possible, so that the reader focuses on the story. Using tags like “said/asked” are so clear, they’re virtually invisible.
Now, does that mean that you can’t use anything else? Of course not. Let’s look further.
Alternate dialogue tags
Some authors say to never use anything other than “said/asked,” while others say to heck with the rules and use whatever you want. Some genres (such as romance) are more forgiving about using alternate dialogue tags. I take a more pragmatic approach to it. I sometimes use lines like:
“I’m glad we got out of there,” she breathed.
The very important question is how often. I compare adverbs and alternate dialogue tags to a strong spice. Some is nice, but too much will spoil the batch. Imagine a cake mix with a liter of vanilla flavoring, rather than the normal tablespoon. The more often you use anything other than “said/asked,” the stronger the flavor. If it’s too powerful, it’ll tug the reader away from the story and spotlights those words. In a full length book of around 85,000 words, I personally use alternate dialogue tags only around a few dozen times total.
By saving them, the pleasant side effect is that when I do use them, they pack more of an emotional punch.
Related: How to Write Natural Dialogue
I have a love affair with action beats. Used effectively, they can be another great way to announce who’s talking, yet at the same time add some movement or blocking to a scene. For example:
Looking down, Katie ran a finger around the edge of the mug. “We need to talk.”
That added some nice flavor to the scene, and you know who spoke. The only caveat is to be careful of not using too many action beats, as it does slow down the pacing a tiny bit. If you’re writing a bantering sequence, for example, you wouldn’t want to use a lot of action beats so as to keep the pacing quick.
Dos and don’ts
Sometimes, action beats and dialogue tags have misused punctuation. I’ll give some examples.
Like many things in a story/novel, it’s all about balance. Try alternating actions beats, dialogue tags, and even no tags at all when it’s clear who’s speaking. By changing it up, it’ll make it so that no one method is obvious.
Ryan Lanz is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
Image courtesy of Onnola via Flickr, Creative Commons.