I recently participated in The Memoir Network’s teleclass, “How to Find Your Images and Metaphors,” taught by the organization’s founder, Denis Ledoux. As he noted, a memoir or personal history should not only provide the facts (who, what, when, where), it should also convey emotion.
It can be fun to perform research, make discoveries and accumulate facts, but let’s face it – a mere listing of events or names on a family tree can make for some very dry and less-than-stimulating reading. Make the characters come alive by infusing emotion into the story, and don’t be afraid to expand the setting and action. This can be achieved by utilizing vivid descriptions (imagery) and comparisons (similes and metaphors) to better create a mind picture for the reader.
For example, the following is grammatically correct, but merely states facts:
My father, a volunteer fireman, was frequently summoned by the town’s fire siren.
Now consider a more descriptive version:
My father, a volunteer fireman, was frequently jarred to attention and summoned by the sudden piercing wail of the town’s fire siren – a sound as mournful and chilling as the random coyote’s howl.
Don’t worry about becoming too verbose – incorporate as much detail and description as you can. When precise words fail you, turn to metaphors and similes to help you convey the meaning, but try to avoid clichés. Be creative! Think of something new and out-of-the-box to engage the reader. Write whatever comes to mind – remember, you can revise and condense if necessary at a later time.
Yes, adding emotion and descriptions will require extra effort, but it will culminate in a much more engaging and entertaining memoir.