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Show AND Tell #1

“Show, don’t tell” is probably the most well-worn saw in teaching creative writing, supposedly originating with Aristophanes.  It’s not bad advice, of course.  The ability to dramatize action, characterization and relationships in scenes is essential to most engaging story telling.  Mastery of the well-crafted scene in which the reader is able both to experience the situation at hand, and also interpret it – “read” it for meaning and understand its implications and reverberations in the story as a whole —  is necessary if one is to ever be a successful writer.  So why is it then, that I have come to want to kick something (or someone) whenever I hear that particular phrase trotted out?

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What Exactly Is a Literary Memoir

First let’s define a few terms:

Journal – just that.  A collection of dated entries that gather force by accretion of experience, always chronological. Many people, myself included, keep private journals for their own amazement and amusement. Some journals, however, are meant from the start as public works (Sue Hubble’s A Country Year, Rick Bass’ Oil Notes, May Sarton’s At Seventy).  The preface of  Reeve Lindbergh’s No More Words, about her experience seeing her mother succumb to Alzheimer’s, reads thus: “These pages represent a kind of journal, with chapters taken from my own diary entries, written off and on between May 1999, the time my mother came to live with us in Vermont, and February 7, 2001, when she died.  I first began to keep a record of this period for myself alone, hoping to make some sense of my turbulent thoughts, feelings, and moods surrounding my mother’s presence and care…This is not, however, an exact reproduction of my diary…I found myself expanding upon the original entries as I typed them into the computer, adding a new thought here or an old memory there, as these thoughts and memories came to me.”  Journal material often finds its way into memoirs.

 

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What is Voice in Creative Writing?

Voice Lessons

“Voice” is a term that gets bandied about in the writing world a lot, as in “He hasn’t found his voice,” or in reviews, such as: “She has created a unique, lovely and deceptively unsophisticated voice for her narrator.”  Sometimes readers will exclaim to a writer, “I love your voice!” or an editor will reject a piece because “the voice isn’t fresh or original enough.”  Voice seems to be a crucial yet elusive aspect of writing.  Is it simply personality in writing?  Like personality or style, don’t you either have it or not? Can it be developed, or learned?  What is it, really?

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Writing a Book-length Memoir

For starters, you’re going to be overwhelmed. We might as well get that up front. Writing–or trying to write a book-length anything–is overwhelming. I know, because I’ve written several, and it was hell. And I’ve worked with a lot of other people who have written books, and I’ve never heard a one of them say, “Hey, that was easy.” Or if I did, I fled the other way. I did hear a few of them say it was good work, and certainly many of them said it was entirely worthwhile, possibly life-saving, and deeply satisfying. In other words, worth it. But still overwhelming, especially in the beginning (also in the middle, not to mention the end…). So, okay. Now you know. You’re going to be overwhelmed. Other people have been overwhelmed and lived to tell about it.

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