As a child I was intrigued by how exciting my friend Josh’s life was. At every recess, he regaled his huddled audience with a riveting narrative of how he missed the bus and had to hitchhike without his mom finding out, or how his bicycle light failed him on a dark street at night and almost led to his early death.
Then, I realized that his stories were all everyday events that could have happened to anyone. The difference was that he crafted the story well. He set up the scene, introduced conflict, and brought the resolution with remarkable flare, and usually a twist of humor to boot.
And his vignettes came with a built-in platform because we all identified with his experiences. It wasn’t something happening in space or in the 1800s. The canvas was always everyday life.
This is the power of the memoir genre.
I have found that what I lack in the novelist’s imagination—it’s exceedingly difficult for me to create a story ex nihilo—I compensate for with my ability to see and describe drama ensconced in an ordinary setting. I have learned to cull plot lines out of my week.
Whenever I notice dramatic irony in my telephone conversations, poetic justice visited on my nosey neighbor, or a motif of rain at every birthday party I have attempted, I find fodder for a story.
Tips for Writing a Memoir Short Story
- Write in the first person. This is your story.
- When introducing someone new, be sure to use names of people as if they were already familiar to your readers. In other words, don’t introduce your wife as “Suzy, my wife,” just mention Suzy and use context to show her role.
- Decide on one point you would like to convey. Use the story as the vehicle.
- For fun: add some flare by alluding to a great literary work your readers would have heard of, or a current event with which your readers would be familiar.
- Write with a particular readership in mind (e.g. your parents or your co-workers), and then sent them the story to read, as a gift. Create an eBook, print it on fancy paper, or simply e-mail it to them to cheer their day.
Take a moment to recall an everyday event that struck you as odd, irritating, coincidental, or serendipitous.
Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please comment on a few other posts, too.
Here’s my practice:
“LOVE IN A TIME OF MEASLES”
by Clint Archer
I always wondered if there was a worse title for a love story than Márquez’s “Love in a Time of Cholera.” But now I get it.
Kids are a breeding ground for infectious disease. The playground is a veritable petri-dish of viruses, bacteria, and various other contagions. Sometimes when my children snuggle up with their lubricated upper lips to kiss me goodnight, I wish I was wearing one of those sealed helmets Dustin Hoffman wore in the movie Outbreak.
This Valentine’s Day Kim and I spent a snotty, quarantined night at home with our infected offspring. Not exactly what Hallmark had in mind. We were both a bit put out by the anticlimax, sealed by cancelled reservations and a cowardly babysitter. But at least we had our health… sort of.
Though our three spotty, slimy littlies looked like they were auditioning for the role of a pizza topping, we were both unaffected by the plague. Immunity instills a flaming sense of invincibility. I can understand why people join the diplomatic corps.
Between intermittent vista to the bathroom with our viral wards in tow, my wife and I shared stories of our own childhood encounters with germ warfare. It occurred to us both that the reason we were now immune was due to the seemingly sadistic forethought of our mothers.
My imperviousness to measles of all stripes, chicken pox, mumps, and pretty much every other disease, came from an old-school type of inoculation: the “Please sneeze on my kid” exposure system.
When my mom heard that a child at school had been booked off for say, chicken pox she would urgently, and with some unmasked glee, schedule a play-date with patient zero.
Her theory was: Get all the sicknesses out of the way when you’re young, and then when your kids get it, you are healthy enough to look after them. It’s brilliant, in a macabre, sadistic kind of way.
But it was only this Valentine’s Day that the realization became lucid, like opening your eyes after the conjunctivitis has subsided. My mom got me sick because she loved me. It couldn’t possibly have been beneficial for her to have me whining like a delirious addict (I couldn’t recover gracefully from any malady). She was serving me, and her future grandkids in an act of unpleasant altruism.
On this near miss at a romantic evening, Kim and I could enjoy the benefits of our parents’ love for us, and pay it forward to our own whiny clan. I guess Kleenex, more than chocolates, helped me learn about love in the time of measles.