“Here’s my problem. My memoir is a series of vignettes. How do I know when I have “enough.” I think of another story and decide to add it. Then I read one I’ve included and wonder if I should delete it. Is this the way to go? I’m sure it isn’t but I truly don’t know what to do as I move forward.” –-Hung Up
This is the essential problem with all memoirs – what to leave in, and what to leave out. But the good news is, you are in excellent company! Annie Dillard, author of An American Childhood noted that “The writer of any work, and particularly any nonfiction work, must decide two crucial points: what to put in and what to leave out…”
This is an especially difficult decision to make during the euphoria of early drafts, when everything you write seems evocative and relevant. But most likely your vignettes are related by theme even if you are not aware of the connections.
Dear Pamela Advice and Tips
—Think of your stories as stars shining in the night sky, making a constellation, a shape, a pattern. What connects one star (story) to another? In other words, what is the theme of your memoir, what is it really about? The answer to this question will clarify what stories contribute to your narrative, and which are random or unrelated episodes.
—If there is a chapter or story you can’t bear to let go of, take a long look at it and ask yourself if it might fit in from a different angle? For instance, if your story is about how you ran away from home on your tricycle when you were four, yet you can’t bear not including the story of the cat you rescued later, maybe the cat was also a runaway. Now the two stories are connected. Part of being creative is finding the odd angle or connection no one else has thought of.
Hung Up, although William Faulkner said that in writing you must “kill your darlings,” I have found you only have to kill the darlings who don’t contribute to your theme, or move your narrative forward. All your other darlings can stay!
Note: This post was originally published on womensmemoirs.com