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Memoir Is Fan Fiction

  • Memoir
Still from the movie Bride of Frankenstein

Write About Yourself as a Character & Capture Your Voice on Paper

When you’re writing about yourself for your family and friends, you step onto the page a fully formed character. To your people, you are already as familiar as the Bride of Frankentein is to fans of classic horror films. Your abilities and vulnerabilities, your signature look and style, how you talk (or scream), your backstory, and many of your adventures—they know it all. You are writing fan fiction.

This is an opportunity! Some people will be excited to read what you have to say because they already like you and want to know you better.

It’s also a challenge. You risk creating a gap between what your readers expect and what you say. If your writing doesn’t sound like you, if you tell stories that seem out of character, then your readers might perceive your writing as inauthentic or inconsistent.

“Well I wrote it—shouldn’t it sound like me?”

Not necessarily. The writing style we learned for school or work may have taught us to erase our personality. We are encouraged to follow a rigid narrative style that favors clarity over engagement. Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said. It’s factual, it’s organized, it’s . . . dull.

Writing is a wonderful process for clarifying our thinking. But when it comes to time to share our thoughts, we may find that we need to actually inject some of our personality back into the words first.

Capturing your voice and personality in writing is something that you can practice as you learn to pay attention and observe your own human patterns and your storytelling style.

How to Observe Yourself as a Character

Notice Your Props

Which possessions are important to you? Try to identify the items that are unique to you.

Here are some writing prompts to get you started:

  • How do you get places? Do you like to walk or bike when everyone around you is driving? Do you have a “good” car? Do you define a good car as one that won’t break down on a long trip, or a car that is totally paid off?
  • What’s something you like to wear—something that most people you know don’t wear? Do you have a collection of sun hats? A vintage cape? Do you have a whole wardrobe of clothes in the colors of your favorite sports team because you attend a lot of their games? What can you tell us about yourself through the ways you choose to show up in the world?
  • What’s a treasured possession in your home? When did you realize that it was important to you?

Notice Your Patterns, Skills, and Personality

Props are a fun way to introduce ourselves, but we’ll need to dig deeper to understand our journey of growth in a specific storyoften called a character arc. The following prompts will help you get to the heart of you as a character.

  • When you walk into a new situation, what are the details you notice that others wouldn’t?
  • What are your buttons? What are your deepest motivations?
  • Which situations show your strengths, and which situations always test you? Has this changed over time?
  • Find more writing prompts that help you understand yourself at Getting Started: 5 Prompts for Writing About Your Life

It can be hard work to view ourselves objectively as characters. Mindfulness practices, therapy, and journaling can be helpful to our process as we learn to notice, accept, and enjoy our human patterns and write honestly about our lives.

“The writer’s individual humanity, his word or gesture towards the world, has to appear almost like a character that makes contact with the reader.”

Truman Capote

How to Observe Your Authentic Voice

Notice your Storytelling Style

The next few writing prompts will help you figure out how to sound like yourself on paper. Your narrator is a character too, but you’ll want to get your narrator voice sounding like you in real life.

  • How do you adapt to changing audiences? How would you tell your favorite party story to your mom? Your best friend? In an interview? (See, I knew you were good at this already.)
  • Do you take your time building trust with new people? Or do you act like strangers are old friends who probably want to know about that embarrassing thing that just happened? Do you want to recreate that experience for the reader? Why or why not?

Get Clear About Your Audience

We all probably have a telephone voice, a mom volume, or a palette of expletives that we choose from depending on whether or not children are present. What we choose to share about ourselves depends on the situation and who is listening. We make adjustments skillfully, and often without being conscious of them.

Writing to publish means losing some control over context. This can be one of the root causes of writer’s block. We won’t always know who is listening and what situation they are in. It can help to get really clear on your target audience and goals for sharing about your life.

  • Try this: Record yourself telling a story from your book to a friend, face-to-face. Pick someone that you care about reading your book. If that feels intimidating, try this simple meditation-based writing exercise that encourages you to imagine telling your story to your ideal listener.

Get Some Feedback

Whew, all this self-awareness is hard work. As your writing comes together, it will eventually be crucial to get some feedback.

Beta readers—especially readers who are not close friends and family—can help you evaluate how your voice and character are coming through in your writing.

Ask trusted friends and family to pick three adjectives to describe you (the real-life you, not the book you). Get feedback from several people, keeping in mind that different people can bring out different sides to your personality.

Then ask your beta readers to pick three adjectives to describe your narrator voice. Does the book consistently reflect who you are in real life? If not, ask them to point out opportunities to reflect the real you in word choice, tone, flow, and structure.

What has helped you write yourself as a character or pin down your unique voice on paper?

And how did you know when you’d finally nailed it? I’d love to hear about it, so leave a comment!

The featured photo of Elsa Lanchester and Boris Karloff from the 1935 film The Bride of Frankenstein is in the public domain.

2 thoughts on “Memoir Is Fan Fiction”

  1. “Noticing your props” is great writing advice. Thinking about an object that is or was important to me often helps me get the story started when I’m stuck.

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