A Ghostwriter looks for Depth

Often clients are surprised when they see themselves in the memoir manuscript for the first time. There are a lot of clients who want to be the absolute hero of all the stories and subplots of their lives, because they honestly see themselves that way. Sometimes, they’re disappointed.

Now, I can write you as the hero of every story, but usually the same clients want the book to be “a best seller.” I happen to know that readers don’t want to read flat, impossibly heroic characters like that, so as long as the ghostwriting client trusts me, I will write his or her character complete with faults, internal conflict, failures, and, of course, successes, too.

Typically my clients trust me, so when they see themselves in the memoir, they’re often surprised by the depth I’ve written into the character, but once they get used to it, they admit that I did hit the nail pretty much on the head.

In ‘Bama Blues,” for instance, a southern memoir about brothers, my client wanted me to interview his brother and childhood friends for a complete background on the story. This was great fun for me, as every interview subject seemed to have a different opinion about my client and his past. Consequently, I was able to piece together a complex interpretation of his character.

When he read the manuscript, I had to wait a long, nerve-wracking time for him to respond. When he did, he admitted that he hadn’t seen himself and his interaction in the community quite the way I did, but it had been his decision to allow the others to weigh in on his past. He liked that I had put together a portrait of him that he could never have done on his own.

It wasn’t just the book’s frank discussion of his effect on the community, it was my interpretation of his internal conflicts that surprised him. And that, ideally, is what I like to do, as a memoir ghostwriter: surprise clients with a view of themselves that is true, but far more complex than they ever realized.

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