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Journaling

Journaling for Memoir: Writing About Place

by Amber Lea Starfire on June 9, 2012

catnav-journaling-activePost #56
Memoir Writing, Journaling
by Amber Lea Starfire
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Place

All stories occur in place and time, and though the location in which something happens may be mere backdrop to the event itself, for memoir writers it is often much more. Place plays a vital role in the story, providing the context—and therefore understanding—for what the narrator experiences. In fact, Place can play such an important role in some stories that it is a character, acting upon other characters and the narrator.

In Gretel Erhlich’s wonderful collection of memoir essays, The Solace of Open Spaces, Wyoming is the acting force which transforms the narrator. In Jamaica Kincaid’s My Brother, the contrast between her life in New York and her life in Antigua provides a thread of tension winding between the events leading up to her brother’s death. And think of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods! How, without the character of the Appalachian Trail, could Bryson reveal so much about human nature? Without Place, there would have been no adventure.

So Place, while adding context, may also add movement and meaning to your memoir—provided that it is portrayed as roundly and deeply as the its importance in the story.

Think about a scene you are writing about or planning to write about for your memoir. To deepen your understanding of this place in your story and its impact on the mean of events, get out your journal.

  • Name your place. Where did the events occur? What was the “micro location,” such as a yard, a room within a house, or ocean beach? What was the name of the larger geographical area that surrounded it? How did the larger area affect the smaller area—construction, size, colors, lighting, and so on? Write what you know about the history of both the micro and macro locations. (You may want to do some research and return to this prompt later.)
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  • Freewrite for ten minutes, starting with the question, “What does [name of place] mean to me?”
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  • List 100 characteristics or attributes of the place. Yes, 100! As I advised in my WritingThroughLife.com post, A Sense of Place: “Write down every minute concrete and sensory detail you can remember, especially, smells, sounds, tastes, and sense of touch (leave sight for last). all the details that make a place a place; they include climate, flora and fauna, people, architecture, and culture. They include both the natural and human-made or influenced attributes of a location. And they give one a feeling that that spot of earth is unique in some way, special, endowed with specific, recognizable qualities.”
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  • Complete the following prompt ten times: “It was the kind of place where …”
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  • What is your relationship to the place? If it were a person, who would it be? How do you feel about the place?
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  • Write a letter to the place as though it were a person in your life. Be open and honest with it, writing whatever is on your heart.

Finally, mimic your favorite authors. Browse your best-loved memoirs with an eye to Place: How did the authors portray the places in their lives? What techniques did they use to give you a sense (not just description) of Place? Which of those techniques might work for you? Jot your thoughts down in your writing journal, and even practice a few of those techniques outside of your memoir, just for play.

Share your riches with others by leaving a comment—How have your favorite authors made Place a rounded character, and what works for you?

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For creative ways to use your journal, as well as writing tips and prompts, be sure to connect with me onWritingThroughLife.com.

Related Articles:

Writing Tips: A Sense of Place
5 Memoir Tips for Writing about Home
Journaling for Memoir
Journaling the Sensory Details

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Image Credit: Louis Vest

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Journaling for Memoir: You Are a Character, Too

by Amber Lea StarfireApril 14, 2012
Journaling for Memoir: You Are a Character, Too

Post #55
Memoir Writing, Journaling
by Amber Lea Starfire
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I remember the first time I thought of myself as a character in my memoir. I was listening to a teacher in my MFA program describe how hard it had been to create his own character on the page. The idea of myself as character came as revelation. [...]

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Journal Writing for Memoir: Time Capsule

by Amber Lea StarfireMarch 10, 2012
Journal Writing for Memoir: Time Capsule

Post #54
Memoir Writing, Journaling
by Amber Lea Starfire

Today, I’m writing about another way to preserve memories—keep a time capsule. Not to bury in your yard, but to bury in the pages of your journal.
If you journal regularly, you already know how journaling helps you become more aware of life as it plays out. And [...]

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Journal Writing for Memoir: Capturing the Details

by Amber Lea StarfireFebruary 12, 2012
Journal Writing for Memoir: Capturing the Details

Post #53
Memoir Writing, Journaling
by Amber Lea Starfire

What makes a memoir compelling? And how do you convey the emotional resonance of your story to your readers? It is not through large, sweeping statements, but through the tiniest details: the rise and fall of a father’s eyebrow, the gesture of a sister’s hand, the heat of the [...]

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Journal Writing for Memoir: Clarify Your Purpose & Direction

by Amber Lea StarfireJanuary 21, 2012
Journal Writing for Memoir: Clarify Your Purpose & DirectionJournal Writing for Memoir: Clarify Your Purpose & Direction

Post #52
Memoir Writing, Journaling
by Amber Lea Starfire

You’ve decided to write a memoir, or at least to record some memories on paper, and you have a general sense of your reading audience. Perhaps you’re writing a legacy of story for your children and grandchildren, or you hope to publish your stories for a broader audience. Either [...]

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Journal Writing for Memoir: Uncovering the Heart of Your Story

by Amber Lea StarfireDecember 10, 2011
Journal Writing for Memoir: Uncovering the Heart of Your Story

Amber Starfire shares seven steps for uncovering the heart of your story from your journaling.

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Journal Writing for Memoir: The Character Journal

by Amber Lea StarfireNovember 12, 2011
Journal Writing for Memoir: The Character JournalJournal Writing for Memoir: The Character Journal

Post #50
Memoir Writing, Journaling
by Amber Lea Starfire
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If you’re like most life-writers, you struggle with how to portray real characters on the pages of your memoir. Maybe you received feedback that your readers are having difficulty “seeing” the people on your pages. After all, how do you make Great Aunt Jane, with all her mannerisms and [...]

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