Nora Ephron Festival Continues to Inspire: A Writing Prompt

by Matilda Butler on July 27, 2012

catnav-alchemy-activePost #57 – Memoir and Fiction, Writing Alchemy – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

More Inspiration from Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron continues to receive our attention and admiration. The more I focus on her works, the higher goes my respect for her. Last night we watched “When Harry Met Sally.” This was the third — “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle” — having been watched in the previous week.

Of course, if you’ve ever seen the movie you remember the great line when Sally does an impression of a woman having a climax just to demonstrate that women can fake it in a believable manner. A woman in the restaurant calls over the waiter and says, “I’ll have what she’s having.” A classic. We probably all wish we could write a few lines that would be recited by many. By the way, did you know the woman saying that line was Rob Reiner’s mother?

But what inspired me was the way she developed Harry and Sally. We first meet them just as they graduate from college and take off for New York to make their way in life. Then as they meet again at widely separated times over a twelve-year period, we learn not just what they are doing but what they are like on the inside — what matters to them — what they think about.

How we develop ourselves and others in our memoirs is one of the critical writing elements that Kendra and I discuss in our new book Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep. You don’t want to do a complete information dump about all the characters at the beginning. You want each character to develop slowly across the pages of your memoir — much as it is in real life. The first time you meet a person you learn something about him or her but not everything. Let the story and the backstory come out in a natural way.

And still more inspiration from Nora Ephron

If you haven’t seen the movie in many years, you may have forgotten that each turn in the story is preceded with a couple sitting on a sofa describing how they met forty or fifty years ago. This is a great story device. We come to anticipate these mini-stories and wonder what will be next? Although no single story adds to the movie, as a whole they are a treasure. It is one way that the particular becomes more universal.

Memoir Writing Prompt

1. Make a list of the five most important things you want your readers to know about you. Then decide at what point in the story that this information will be revealed. Write the first scene where you reveal one of these five points about yourself. How do you work it into the story?

2. You may not use an obvious structural device like the couples on the sofa. However, finding a structural device may help you continue to move forward with your story and your writing. Think about the device Nora Ephron used. Look through other memoirs that you own and see what devices they use. Then, even if you don’t use it in your actual memoir, decide on a device for your book and write it down. For example, I read a memoir organized around family cars, another around favorite shoes, several around recipes, letters, and the list goes on. Try to think of an organizing concept for your book and write about it and how it could serve to help your writing and even your conceptualization of your story.

memoir, memoir writing, Writing Alchemy

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Pamela Jane July 29, 2012 at

Matilda: Thanks for another wonderful post; I love Nora Ephron’s writings and films and you made me want to watch her movies all over again!

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