Writers should not unload all the information about their characters in one place in their stories. Readers do not want to see a who’s who bio for every character lumped together in the story. By the same token, writers should not pile on all the facts of their story world at the beginning of their novels or memoirs either. You know; world history, how devices are used, why things happen, and why it matters to the world at large. Besides being info-dumps, these methods take away the pleasure of reading a story.
Let the story unfold naturally. Don’t answer all the reader’s questions on the first page or even the first chapter of a novel or memoir. Let the reader care about a person first. The story needs to unfold slowly as Jennie Nash of Author Accelerator tells her coaching clients. Once the reader connects with a character, then the writer can explain how the story world affects this person or family. We are creating a character arc. Characters, especially the protagonist, should change by the end of the story.
But where do you place the important material in the story?
The writer shares the information about his or her characters or the story at large at the time when those characters would be thinking about how things work in their world or thinking about their past because it affects the story present, the forward movement in the story. Many writers know this, but it’s very difficult to do.
At one point in my college memoir, the character of Victoria must face her fear of what opportunity might bring if she wins two prestigious college awards.
In allowing this story section to unfold slowly, Victoria discovers that what she’s afraid of are how her feelings toward her family might change if she is awarded an opportunity to study away from home. This was a dream of Victoria’s when she was younger. Now she feels she might blame her family, as if it could be their fault she can’t study just anywhere. She worries about what regret could do to her psyche. Regret from missed opportunities can be ugly. It makes people bitter. And Victoria does not want to be bitter—especially toward her family.
This forces Victoria to face the fact that she could never leave her family for semesters at a time; never leave her husband with all the work of raising five children and helping their special needs daughter with her education. Realizing her family comes first, Victoria decides to apply for the awards, knowing she would only accept an opportunity that she could use.
This is part of the character arc of Victoria. She will be forever changed from this point in the memoir story. She will not sacrifice her family life to live a college dream of studying away from home. She will find another way to complete her college education with no regret.
Please ask any questions about my college memoir and share any insight you may have in the comments section of Adventures in Writing about how you allow your story to unfold naturally. Thanks so much!
I will not be posting on Adventures in Writing in July or August 2020. I am moving and have much to do, especially since I’m still trying to move forward on writing projects. Don’t know if I’ll be able to keep writing during this time, though. Thank you for your understanding.
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