It's a common question among writers. I hear all types of answers — many are genres I don't understand.
Today, I safely say, "Memoir." That's why I attended Karen Albright Lin's workshop on "Writing Your Life" at the Pikes Peak Writers conference last week.
The workshop offered great examples of memoir, autobiography, personal essay and a novelization of your life. I'm writing a memoir, because I'm covering a specific period four-year span of my life — the time between my late husband's stroke and his death.
During the workshop Lin touched on the issue of truth in our writing through a series of short exercises. We wrote about an event. Later, we altered it by adding in details that did not happen. It was a mini-lesson in memoir vs. novelization of your life.
Telling the truth about our lives was timely as another memoir was in the news for questionable facts.
Lin said a disclaimer is a good idea for memoir. In this, you note that your memory of the event is yours and it may be different from others. For example in my story, I have a completely different experience than others during my husband's ER visits. I dealt with nurses, communicated with my husband through our spelling method and argued with ER staff while a sister-in-law or brother sat in the waiting room.
Her key points on memoir were:
- Begin at point of change
- Set scene
- Set tone, theme and point of view
- Implicit promise (must keep it)
- Use vivid details
- Don't state, illuminate (show don't tell)
- Don't sugar coat
- Work toward climax, denouement, hopeful ending
- Leave reader wanting more