How to Use Unique Settings to Excite Memoir Readers

Here’s a brief recap on class one, which I taught last week on writing memoir short stories. What I’m trying to do as I teach these classes is break down what I do when I’m working on a memoir for a client, as a ghostwriter. That’s not easy, because I do it all pretty intuitively, but the main thing I think I do that a lot of amateur writers don’t do is to look at your story the way you would as a movie producer. First, hire a location scout (in your mind) to find unique settings.

When Writing Memoir, Unique Settings Come First

You can’t make a film without a location for shooting. In the same way, you can’t write a memoir short story without a setting for your story. I don’t want to encourage students to pick one short story to write, first. Rather, I’d prefer you go through your library of memories and select a lot of important locations, like a location scout for a movie would do. You might write a story that takes place in your childhood home or at some scenic vacation spot or at in some place of business that brings back a lot of memories. Preferably, all of the above. We’ve got a lot of stories to tell! What we’re doing here is just making a list of special locations you remember in order to make a list of potential short stories you might write.

Homework for Class One: Setting and Action, not Emotion

The idea of this class was to look at your life as a series of unique settings and interesting events that happened in those locations. This gives you potential for a lot of stories. I gave students the homework of writing down the locations and then simply a list of events that happen in each location. What I want for my students in this class is to ground them in time and place and story action rather than emotion and philosophy.

A lot of potential clients call me about their stories and just want to talk about the intense emotion involved in their memories. That’s normal. Life is emotional! But we’re not trying to write essays here, but stories. Stories have to happen somewhere and there has to be a character doing something. If you can think of the story like that, like the way you would view a movie, we’ll get out of the realm of pure emotion and get into the nitty-gritty of writing story action. So that’s a brief recap of our first memoir short story class. The next class will be on action and conflict. It’s called “Opening with a Bang.” To join us, just contact me!

2 thoughts on “How to Use Unique Settings to Excite Memoir Readers”

  1. Interesting. The first three stories I tried were all about trips I took so I guess that works for me and finally got me going.

    • Hey, glad you’re getting into it. Setting certainly figures prominently in travel writing! In the next class, we’ll talk about how to take it up a notch.


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