Happy New Year, Toolbox Writers! I hope you enjoyed some quality family time during the holidays.
My last Toolbox post talked about “What Exactly is the Origin Scene in Memoir or Fiction?” The origin scene starts a misbelief in the protagonist, a misunderstanding about herself.
Think about Harry Potter. When the series opens, Harry Potter believes he is an unwanted child. Insignificant. Nothing. Why does he feel this way? The adults who are raising him, the Dursleys, tell him and show him so.
In the first book, Harry is just looking for acceptance, in my opinion. He’s looking for friendship, and hopefully someone who will tell him he isn’t worthless. A deceptively difficult goal for an 11 year old boy.
Now let’s consider what Lisa Cron, the author and teacher of the Story Genius method of writing, has to say about story.
Cron teaches that story is internal. It’s about how what happens in the plot, the physical action of the story, affects a character who has a deeply ingrained misbelief about himself or about his place in life. And this character perceives his goal in the story to be difficult to attain. The internal change will be at the heart of your story and will make your point.
This is true in fiction, and this is true in memoir. The writer is telling a story. And there needs to be a point to the story, the universal theme. The uniqueness of memoir is how it’s a true story first and offers insight second. The hardest thing for memoirists to remember is that the memoir story is not really “all about them.” They need to think about their readers and how this particular slice of life can help the readers in turn.
I believe that I have the “difficult goal to obtain” part in my memoir story about attending college as a mother of five. It’s to believe in myself enough to, in fact, obtain that Bachelor of Arts degree while still raising those five children, while still being the main teacher of my special needs daughter. My internal struggle is constantly fighting doubt; it’s fighting inadequacy. It’s [mis]believing that I am not college material, not smart enough to succeed in college.
The plot, the story present, is learning how not to allow someone else’s judgment of me to color my world, whether it’s my father, one of my children’s teachers or counselors, or the many professors I encounter at college. And my story present begins when my special needs daughter wants the same dream that I had once allowed my parents to convince me that I was not worthy of.
Everyone wants to be seen as worthy in someone else’s eyes—especially someone important or close to them. Someone they feel who knows more than they do; whether it’s about education, about life, or about them specifically.
This memoir is about a younger Victoria, an inadequate Victoria, finally coming of age. For I believe that attending college—at whatever age a person attends college—can help her to believe in herself, in her life choices, in her parenting skills. At least it did for this Victoria.
The theme of “coming of age” doesn’t necessarily deal with only children becoming adults. I believe it can be realized whenever a life-altering event takes place in someone’s life—even if she is already an adult with children.
Please offer any insight you may have on a “coming of age” theme for my college memoir or about my thoughts on allowing someone else’s judgment to affect you. Any thoughts you wish to share are truly helpful to me in writing my memoir journey.
Next month, I’d like to discuss the transformational arc of the protagonist. I wish you all every success in 2018.
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