Memoir Writing Tiny Tip #8: Memoir Boundaries

by Matilda Butler on January 10, 2017

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #233 – Memoir Writing Tiny Tip – Matilda Butler



Tiny Tip #8 Just for You

This is the eighth in a newish and irregular series of short blog posts designed to get you to focus on just one small point. I call them Tiny Tips.

Scroll to the bottom if you are interested in how this series came to be.

Case in Point:

Have you put a boundary around your memoir? The boundary might be defined by time or place or people or events. Or even defined by a mixture of these. I’m sure you have figured out the boundary for your particular story. Good for you. A memoir needs boundaries. With the boundaries well mapped out, you create scenes that populate the particular world covered by your memoir.

This leads to a tight memoir that helps you maintain a well-shaped story. It lets you provide the level of detail that enables readers to envision themselves right in your story.

And yet.

You probably guessed that’s what I would say next.

Sometimes you should consider letting the reader look just a bit outside the boundary. Let the reader take a peek at a little earlier or later time. See a slightly broader place. Know, even if only peripherally, that there are other relevant people in your life story that won’t be included in your memoir. Grasp another event series that can’t be fully explored in the memoir. This letting down of boundaries is especially helpful when it can be used to open a vision that leads to a better understanding of what is happening inside your story.

memoir writing tipFor example. I take regular walks around the back on the condo complex where I live part of the year. As you can see from the photos on the left, my story could just deal with the:

–tall coconut palm trees gently swaying in the afternoon breeze, or the

–shallow ponds with decorative koi swimming around the purple water lilies, or the

–resident black-crowned night heron that keeps a vigil for its fish dinner, or the

–Naupaka hedge with the white half-flowers that have their own Hawaiian legend.

The hedge is an obvious boundary but the other elements I mentioned are also types of boundaries of what I include in the story or exclude from the story.

Yet look at this series of photos. You will know much more about my well-bounded story if I let you look just beyond the hedge at the:

– massive lava flow that comes so close that it touches some of the green leaves.

The lava is abrupt and shocking in its blackness and its massiveness, in what was once its violence. You can see how the rest of the flow was carved away to create the peaceful scene of broad Naukapa hedges and black-crowned night herons and shallow ponds and colorful koi gracefully swimming in and out of the blossoms of the purple water lilies and tall, swaying coconut palm trees.

Don’t let your readers spend much time distracted by what is outside your memoir boundary. But consider when a peek helps your readers understand your story with more depth than is otherwise possible.

And that’s what you need to do.

How This Tiny Tip Series Started

The idea for a series of short writing tips came to me while reading the program notes for a chamber music concert. I realized that many (well, ok, most) of my blog articles get to be long and often require you to do certain things — like write from prompts I’ve provided. And while I will continue with this type of longer article because I think they are of value, I realized that sometimes as writers we just want a little bit of information or a small new idea or a thought stated differently. We don’t have a lot of time.

That’s the concept behind each Tiny Tip. Just a nugget to give you something to think about as you go through your busy day.

Enjoy.

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