Wednesday, April 18, 2007

On Writing

Today I attended a 'Workshop On Writing Memoir' organized by the Gotham writers workshop at a Barnes and Nobles shop on upper west side (66 St subway station). It was a free event to promote their memoir writing workshop classes amongst interested writers. The sole speaker at the event was Janice Erlbaum (author of Girl Bomb) who took us through the basics of writing a memoir. Here is what happened at the event.

Janice started by mentioning that a memoir is a true story of one's life. All of us remember most of the traumatic events of our lives; the ones that induce change and are the first of their kind for us. Memoir writing is recreation of all these changes. The following books were mentioned as noteworthy memoirs -

Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres
The Year of Yes by Maria Headley
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

Memoir writing (as any writing) can be classified into three main areas - Character, Plot and Good writing.

Character - All the minute details of a personality matter here. Who has what characteristics? Who is the hero and who is the bad guy? A character need not generate sympathy of the reader to be a strong character; the more detailed and vivid the character is the more audience can see themselves in it and so empathize with it.

Plot - A plot of a memoir should ask the question - 'Are you going to get what you want?'. The reader should be sufficiently interested in this basic question. You may or may not get what you want, but the details of how you go about it about it should induce them to read on.

Good writing - Good writing is vivid and specific in its descriptions. Janice said that adjectives and adverbs are often overrated as fas as good descriptions go - sometimes a well used noun can do the trick. As a writer you should do everything possible to refresh the memories which form the basis of your memoir. Sometime some specific sight, sound or a person can act a catalyst in helping you remember exactly what happened. The writer should try and recreate the dialog between the characters. Memoir is an honest account of what happened; however a writer can lie by omission. This means that the reader is most often not interested in the boring parts and it is the writers prerogative to skip these in the memoir. Good writing also details the environment or the setting in which the events took place. As an example if your mom tells you - 'You have been adopted', you will most probably remember such a shocking dialog in very vivid detail. You would tend to remember the minutest details when such a conversation took place. However other stuff like you traveling to work usually could be skipped over to achieve a good pace in the story.

Three exercises were undertaken in the workshop:

#1 The first was to remember some first time incidents.

#2 Building up on the first exercise we were asked to write some more details about the event in exercise 1.

#3 We were asked to write for 6-7 minutes about the event in 1 and 2.

At the end of the workshop Janice gave out pointers to help publish the work. Specifically two books were mentioned as references

- The Art of the Book Proposal by Eric Maisel
- Thinking Like Your Editor by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato

All in all, I think I spent a quality one hour at the workshop and made a promise to myself to read some of the works mentioned here.

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