Elements of Fiction/Memoir

Cuban Dancer detail, from the Stream of Consciousness Series, acrylic and house paint on canvas, 2’x3′, www.carolineallen.com

I recently taught a writing class at my art studio, and am including here the overview sheet I provided to students. Listed below are the various elements involved in writing Fiction/Memoir. The list, of course, is only the beginning. Learning how to successfully pull off the following elements, now that’s the rub…

Brainstorming story ideas
For new writers who want to write a book, it can be much easier to begin with just one story…to get into the flow of writing and to learn the elements of writing through this one piece. I suggest using an event from your life, because this can segue easily into memoir and is also the method many writers use as they turn their lives into a work of fiction.

Come up with and write down at least three events from your life; one of which you will write about. I recommend students think of an event that fits into a two- to six-hour time period; shorter time frames are easier to explore, and simpler to finish in an eight-week timeframe. Participants get into groups and tell each other the stories they have chosen. We discuss the ideas in class with extensive instructor feedback.

Writing the story in rough draft

Spend an hour or two writing about the event. Do not self edit. Try to keep the pen moving. The most important objective is to write the story in its entirety — from beginning through the middle to the end, even if this means using broad strokes.

Vivid Description
Description…it’s important to use all the senses in writing rich and vivid description, taste, smell, sight, sound, touch. Choose an object from your story and practice rich, vivid description.

Begin characterization around one person in the story. Good characterization makes or breaks a story. This is true in fiction, as well as in memoir. You must bring the people in your story to life. How do they walk? How do they look? What types of clothing do they wear? What are their hobbies?
2. Dialogue
How can you capture the voice of your character. Pick a scene from your story and rewrite the scene in dialogue.

Place is of prime importance in your writing. Read setting description by well-known authors. Write setting as if you’re on a photography assignment. Begin by giving us an overview picture of the setting. Move in close to the main building or landscape where the events in your story takes place and describe that. Take intimate snapshots of the actual building or room. Add weather. Don’t scrimp on the setting; putting your characters in a solid, real, even eccentric landscape will ground them for the reader, embed them more deeply into the readers’ psyche.

All stories have some sort of plot, basically a beginning, middle and end that fit together. One concept of plot is this: the character wants something and must face increasing challenges to getting it, until finally a climax is reached and either the character gets what they want or she doesn’t. This is the structure, the bones of the story, and I believe should be looked at AFTER one has already written out the rough draft.

Theme is difficult to grasp. To get to the spirit of the story, you must first write it. Look for themes that pop up unconsciously. After you finish the rough draft, look at what universal/spiritual ideas appear. Themes are often universal – love, survival, revenge, rebirth, etc.

A coach can help you learn these elements and put them into practice in a novel or memoir: http://www.artofstorytellingonline.com

2 thoughts on “Elements of Fiction/Memoir

  1. Thanks for the introduction sheet Carrie. This is very helpful if you are getting started for the first time or haven’t been writing for a while.

    My favorite is sitting down for an hour or two and just writing. I’ve been doing this for my fiction and non-fiction writing. It is such a release. I usually have to really go back an scrub the rough draft several times, but the essence is there. Even if on the first go round I couldn’t find the right words to say what I meant, I have a flavor of what it was. On revision, I go back and play around with words.

    Thanks again!


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