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Here’s the beat: “It was the first time that she made herself vulnerable to me, and for the first time in months, I really looked at her.” Take a look at these beats (with the emotional keys italicized, and of course simplified) in my student Erika Johnson’s memoir-in-progress, : After all, the boy is with his mother half the time.(BEAT) On her wedding night, she waits downstairs in a negligee for her husband to finish putting Max to bed, only to find the two of them fast asleep.Keep in mind that the desire line can change by the end of the memoir.
Take it from me: You don’t want to write a poor-me book.
The best memoirs show how human beings change under pressure, not just the bad things that can happen to people. If you marry a doctor who turns out to be a crook, that’s not change. If you marry a doctor who turns out to be a crook, and you knew all along something was wrong—those unexplained phone calls, a repossessed Porsche—then you have a story to tell.
Only you can tell the story that you've been given, and other people's lives will be enriched for it.
It was as if I decided to build a house and just started nailing together boards without giving a thought to blueprints.
So let’s take a look at exactly how to build your arc, starting with the key elements: the desire line, actions and obstacles, emotional beats, the initiating incident and, of course, the ending. I wanted to make a new life in Uganda after the death of my wife.
.) You should be able to state the desire line in a sentence: I wanted to be a psychiatrist. I wanted to be a model though I weighed 160 pounds.At first, I thought the desire line for my book about my relationship with my teenager was, “I wanted to keep my daughter safe”—but then I realized that was more about her than it was about me. You try a lot of different things to solve your problem, with mixed results.The desire line must be one that makes the story about you. You have setbacks, you make mistakes and you push on, until you either get what you wanted, or you don’t, or you stop wanting it, or whatever.Notice that some beats will be major turning points, others more minor.The most important event/beat comes near the beginning. You were perfectly content as you were, saw no reason to change, then the trouble came along and Everything you knew about yourself was thrown out of balance.If you’re stuck, a good way to come up with the specific desire line is to write a one-page fantasy in which you get your ideal ending in the story you’re telling. Even more interesting to the reader, however, are the internal obstacles: the ways in which you screwed up, got things wrong. If your story is one of pingponging from triumph to triumph, keep it to yourself, thanks!) Why did you ignore evidence that your husband was lying to you? (In I start by preening myself on what a natural mother I am.This is why it’s such a blow when my daughter’s life falls apart.) Often the real drama of a memoir is in watching the narrator shed beliefs and behaviors that keep him from getting what he wants.If you can’t come up with a clear list of things you did to get what you wanted—and of obstacles standing in your way—that might be a sign that your book concept is too internal, too talky or too dependent on psychological insights (for instance, realizing that you’re leading the life your dad did, or that you married a woman who’s a lot like your mom).Even so, it’s his original desire that drives his character to that unexpected conclusion.Don’t expect to come up with your desire line immediately: It’s not that easy. (And so on.) In your memoir, remember that you are the action hero.