Memoir Writing Tips: Consider Scale as Focus

by Matilda Butler on April 3, 2012

Writing Prompt LogoPost #140 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Memoir Writing Needs to Explore Transformation, Scale and Focus

memoir, memoir writing tips, how to memoirDo you remember when Claes Oldenburg was popular? Beginning with a visit to an exhibition of his monumentally-sized sculpture in the 1960s, I became fascinated with his contribution to the Pop Art movement. A few years later, the intrigue of oversized objects was still with me. I recall a trip to New York City when I was tempted to buy a three-foot long paperclip that I saw in a store window. Fortunately, it was a Sunday and the store was closed.

It’s easy to see the impact of a larger-than-life object in the real world. But how does a memoir writer create the equivalent of Oldenburg’s controversial 24-foot lipstick? Let’s back up for a moment. Oldenburg, now 83 said in a recent interview:

“The key to my work is that it’s about my experience. If I ate BLTs, which I did, I would sooner or later want to create them.”

It seems that more than memoir writers use their lives as source material. Oldenburg, later in the interview, said something that made me consider how we think about and use our lives.

“My work is a transformation of my surroundings.”

What Does a Memoir Writer Do With Her Life?

When we write memoir, do we just tell the story of what happened? Or, might we learn more and therefore share more if we consider the deep investigation and transformation of the experience rather than the mere recital. This topic is worth considering and we’ll return to it again in the future.

Memoir Writing, Storytelling, and Scale

Let’s turn to the main topic today, memoir writing and scale. If you want to make the equivalent of a 45-foot high clothespin (Oldenburg’s 1976 sculpture), how do you go about it? Below are several tips to get you started thinking:

Memoir Tip #1: If you want readers to notice part of your experience, consider going deep. This tells the reader that what you are writing about is important. Detail scales up the situation.

Memoir Tip #2 If an event or person or emotion is important, consider how many words you devote to the topic. Did a chance meeting lead to significant changes in your life? Then evaluate whether you focus on the changes or the meeting. Let the reader know how you view this meeting vs. changes decision by the relative number of words you devote to each. You can scale one up over the other by the attention you give.

memoir, memoir tips, memoir writing prompts, Storytelling

The following video shows how a Claes Oldenburg installation is handled by the Whitney Museum.

memoir, memoir tips, memoir writing prompts, Storytelling

Writing Alchemy, writing book, book on writing memoir, memoirWant to know more about digging deep for details in your memoir writing? Our new book, Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep provides a new system for developing your memoir. Tested over the past several years in classes, workshops, and seminars, Writing Alchemy is now available with a special pre-publication price. Click here for more information. [Pre-publication price is only available until May 1. Be sure to reserve your copy. We have almost sold out of our initial print run.]

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