I’m so pleased to have back with us an amazing writer and storyteller Oksana Marfioti. She was a guest with us a few months ago and we are pleased to have her back. She is going to do a series of posts about writing, and about her new book American Gypsy. I have read her book, and it is wonderful–rich with the characters of her multi-ethnic family, full of stories about the gypsies, or Roma as they call themselves, in Europe, and how they have to adapt–or try to in America–told through the eyes of a young girl. Thank you, Oksana, and welcome!
Every one of us has a great story to tell, and most of us have more than one.
When we first put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, our purpose is to find that story. Sometimes we’re lucky to know exactly what it’s going to be, but more often we have a general idea and decide to roll with it, to see where it leads us.
One would think that for memoir writers, choosing the storyline would be the easiest thing under the sun. I’ve met plenty of people that claim if they were writing a memoir they’d be done within a month, since they’d know exactly what to say. However, those of us who’ve gone through the process know otherwise. Even memoir writers have to make decisions as to what kind of a tale we will tell, because life simply isn’t one beautifully executed story arch with a perfect set of circumstances and just the right amount of melodrama, romance, and humor. Life is hectic, multi-hued, messy, like fireworks going off at all the wrong (or right) moments. This means that it’s sometimes almost impossible to figure out your book’s purpose, to know from the start what your life story or the book you’ve set out to create is about.
And yet, it’s essential to do so.
Your reader wants to know what makes your story unique. Why should they read it? What do you have to say that is so important?
Writing about your life in general isn’t enough.
There’s a message somewhere in there that calls to get out and you need to find it.
The easiest way to find out if you know the exact focus of your memoir is by paying attention to what you tell other people when they ask about it, and noticing their reactions.
Do you start from the day you were born, and keep going, re-telling every birthday, every tooth lost, every music recital, every job, and every major move. Or does your story begin from the moment that best fits your purpose in telling your story? Do you feel like you’re rambling on and becoming confused by your own account, or do you have a brilliantly worked out pitch–effective and succinct? Does your audience seem to nod off or get a glazed over look in their eyes? Or do they keep asking questions, never leaving your side until they hear every detail?
Your audience will tell the truth without you asking, which is crucial to all writers, because ultimately we want someone to fall in love with our work. We want them to relate to our struggles and triumphs. Most importantly, as memoir writers especially, we want to share and to help those who might be going through situations we ourselves experienced.
So keep your ears and eyes open, and let your audience help you find your story.
In the next segment I will share some exercises I used, in addition to the one described above, to flesh out my own book, American Gypsy: A Memoir which is being released July third, 2012. Join me on my Facebook page.
Oksana Marafioti is the author of American Gypsy: A Memoir (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, July 3rd 2012). Her short fiction has appeared in various publications. Marafioti is a Black Mountain Institute Fellow at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in partnership with the Library of Congress.