Memoir Writing Prompts: Dorothy Parker and the Element of Emotions

by Matilda Butler on June 15, 2012

Writing Prompt LogoPost #154 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler





Women’s Memoirs Thanks Dorothy Parker for Her Take on Emotions

Every once in a while, I come across a Dorothy Parker quote. Then suddenly I find a treasure trove of them. I have two great ones to share today. One reminds us of the importance of expressing the full range of emotional states in our writing and the second gives us a writing prompt.

memoir writing promptParker, as you probably know, was a theatre critic as well as xxx. She went to see The Lake, a 1933-34 play that had 55 New York performances. During the intermission, Parker is reported to have said to a colleague, “We might as well go back and watch Katharine Hepburn run the gamut of emotions from A to B.” (Quoted in While Rome Burns by Woollcott)

Parker wasn’t the only one to pan the actress in that play. Robert Benchley wrote in The New Yorker, “Not a great actress, by any manner of means, but one with a certain distinction which, with training; might possible take the place of great acting in an emergency.”

The important point here is that the audience engages with the emotions of actors. Similarly, readers engage with our stories when we reveal our emotions. Have you ever read a memoir where the person was always happy and had the perfect life? Or how about the memoir where everything went wrong. Both of those emotional states are believable and appropriate. It is just that no life is lived 100 percent of the time in a single emotion. The flow from emotional state to emotional state needs to be in our writing such as it is in our life.

Memoir Writing Prompt:

Dorothy-Parker, memoir writing promptWant to know how to write a memoir? The previous Dorothy Parker quote addressed the issue of the range of emotions. This one reminds us to SHOW rather than TELL about emotions. A person could tell you that the book made him angry. Or, he could throw the book against the wall. Which conveys the message more clearly? If you are happy, is it more effective to tell a friend you are happy or to write that you skipped down the hall after learning the good news. Showing creates a visual image for the reader that is more powerful.

Writing Prompt: Look at a scene or vignette that you recently wrote. What emotion are you trying to convey? How are you showing the emotion? Don’t worry if you find that you haven’t even dealt with the emotion of the person. Memoir writers often leave out this important element of writing. This is your chance to take that scene and go back through it first by understanding what are the emotional states and then how you want to effectively express them. Emotions help bring characters to life and make readers care about them.

memoir writing prompt logo

PS Writing about the emotion is the focus of one of our chapters in Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep. We’ve extended our special pre-order price until June 25. Be sure to take advantage of this ultra-low price. We’ve added a new feature to the manuscript and had to go back to the layout stage again, hence the delay.

Leave a Comment

Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category StoryMap Category StoryMap Category StoryMap Category Writing and Healing Category Writing and Healing Category Writing and Healing Category Scrapmoir Category Scrapmoir Category Scrapmoir Category Book Business Category Book Business Category Book Business Category Memoir Journal Writing Category Memoir Journal Writing Category Memoir Journal Writing Category News Category News Category News Category