This post is one of 26 I am writing for the A-Z Challenge on the subject of writing a memoir. I’m not an expert in writing memoirs, but I’m exploring the topic with thoughts about writing one, and am happy to share the fruits of my exploration.
How do you create empathy in your memoir? You certainly need it if you’re going to carry the reader along with you. It’s not by making yourself into a victim – not now, anyway. Readers can empathise with a child who has been a victim, but not with the adult who has remained a victim. By the end of the book, they want to see signs of positive change, however many setbacks there have been along the way.
How do you create empathy in the childhood scenes? By bringing them alive. Include conversation, little details, sounds, smells and, above all, feelings. Now you know what the next post is about.
My next A-Z post will appear on Sunday.
10 replies on “A-Z Challenge: E is for…”
If the writer has always felt that they were a victim then to portray anything different would be to cheat the reader. I think you have to show that you want and try to get out of that dark place. The reader then should want and try with you. Does that make sense?
Rosalind Adam is Writing in the Rain
I haven’t read a memoir in which the author was in a dark place and is still there. By the end of the memoir, the author is always in a better place. But you could be right. Being able to see that the author wants and has tried to get out could be enough for the reader. Do you know any examples of this?
Not off the top of my head. It just struck me that to write it otherwise would be to put a ‘happy ever after’ ending to it and we all know that life ain’t like that. I know it’s different from a book but I saw Piaf at the theatre the other night. That was anything but happy. We were dragged into her demons every step of the way through her life.
Because I am a fiction writer, I haven’t read any memoirs to speak on the state of the author from beginning to end. However, if I were to read a memoir, it would make for a disappointing read to see the author start as a victim and end in that same place, rather flat actually.
Just as the main characters in a fictional story have to change in some way, so does the real character in a memoir, hopefully through having taken control of their life.
Honesty is important and a forced happy ending to please the reader is definitely a no-no. However, I think it would be very difficult to be able to write a publishable memoir if the writer had become and remained a victim. From a reader viewpoint, I can empathise with memoir writers as I read about how it felt for them at a time when they found themselves in a victim role, about their struggles to make sense of what was happening to them and attempts to get out of it. But I would hope that by the end of the book they had managed to move on in some way.
I suppose anyone who is still a victim is not yet ready to write a memoir.
empathy is yes, in the details. Not the telling.
That’s an important point. Thank you.
This would be a really difficult thing to do. I’ve tried to write memoir too, though travel memoir, and for some reason it’s just nowhere near as easy for me as writing fiction.