The Message, a Novel

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The more introspective and vulnerable you are, the more effective will be your memoir. My father was a drunk who abused my mother and me. I was scared to death every time I heard him come in late at night. As soon as I heard the gravel crunch beneath the tires and the car door open and shut, I dove under my bed. I could tell by his footsteps whether Dad was sober and tired or loaded and looking for a fight.

I prayed God would magically make me big enough to jump between him and my mom, because she was always his first target….

Lost in Translation: Eugene Peterson and His 'Message'

Worry less about chronology than theme. Tell whatever anecdote fits your point for each chapter, regardless where they fall on the calendar. Just make the details clear so the reader knows where you are in the story. You might begin with the most significant memory of your life, even from childhood. As in a novel, how the protagonist in this case, you grows is critical to a successful story.

Your memoir should make clear the difference between who you are today and who you once were. What you learn along the way becomes your character arc. It should go without saying that you write a memoir in the first-person. Tell both your outer what happens and your inner its impact on you story.

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You might be able to structure your memoir the same way merely by how you choose to tell the story. Take the reader with you to your lowest point, and show what you did to try to remedy things. If your experience happens to fit the rest of the structure, so much the better. Great novels carry a book-length setup that demands a payoff in the end, plus chapter-length setups and payoffs, and sometimes even the same within scenes.

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The more of these the better. The same is true for your memoir. Virtually anything that makes the reader stay with you to find out what happens is a setup that demands a payoff. Even something as seemingly innocuous as your saying that you hoped high school would deliver you from the torment of junior high makes the reader want to find out if that proved true.

Avoid using narrative summary to give away too much information too early. To me, that just took the air out of the tension balloon, and many readers would agree and see no reason to read on. Better to set them up for a payoff and let them wait. Not so long that you lose them to frustration, but long enough to build tension. Usually a person painted in a negative light—even if the story is true—would not sign a release allowing you to expose them publicly.

Changing names to protect the guilty is not enough. Too many people in your family and social orbit will know the person, making your writing legally actionable. Change the location. Change the year. Change their gender. You could even change the offense.


If your own father verbally abused you so painfully when you were thirteen that you still suffer from the memory decades later, attribute it to a teacher and have it happen at an entirely different age. Is that lying in a nonfiction book?

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  • 1. Explore the most important themes embedded in your central idea.
  • Thoroughly immerse yourself this genre before attempting to write in it. I read nearly 50 memoirs before I wrote mine Writing for the Soul. Are you working on your memoir or planning to? Do you have any questions on how to write a memoir? Share with me in the comments below.

    Central Idea vs Theme: Developing your Novel's Ideas | Now Novel

    Before you go, be sure to grab my FREE guide:. Just tell me where to send it:. Share Pin Confused yet? Stay with me. Maybe you came from: The wrong side of the tracks A broken home Having been a victim of abuse Addiction An orphanage To a position of: Wealth Status Happiness Health Faith You might start with memories that show how bad things once were for you. Want to save this guide to read, save, or print whenever you wish? Click here. What happened to me can also happen to you. Cosmic Commonalities All people, regardless of age, ethnicity, location, and social status, share certain felt needs: food, shelter, and love.

    Knowing or understanding or relating to nothing else about her, I understand love of family. Restless capital means a working life that more closely resembles greyhounds chasing the rabbit than any kind of craftsmanship. Friendship is the solace in A Little Life, as it is in any life riven with anxiety, and it is rendered so exquisitely lifelike here — replete with beauty and dark currents — that it almost approximates the real thing. Why is the sexual relationship always at the centre? Of course there is sex in A Little Life, but it is sex between friends — and then it becomes something else entirely.

    As Willem would put it, we are inventing new types of relationships. A Little Life succeeds and connects because it is willing to explore those nuances. Meredith Alling meremyth I finished A Little Life and I feel like I just climbed out of a well and my fingernails are torn up January 17, Reading, of course, is a solo activity. January 16, So why has it struck such a chord? Topics Hanya Yanagihara. Fiction features. Reuse this content. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. Threads collapsed expanded unthreaded. Loading comments… Trouble loading? Most popular.