Writing as Fiction as if it were Memoir

by Intermittent Rain ~ March 24th, 2020. Filed under: Thoughts about Writing.

There was something in Mary Karr’s “The Art Of Memoir” that stuck with me.

I listened to this as an audiobook from the library so it’s difficult to quote exactly but the specifics are less important than the process. She mentioned searching for a scene from her life that showed an example of her father and, something. How he loved her or some other other characteristic.

Karr had a story, she had a sense of what was important about this angle on her history, and she was rooting around in her childhood for an event that would show the reader something relevant to the story.

This, I thought, is how fiction should be written. Root about in your world, in your character’s history, or in their present, for moments and scenes that make relevant statements about what you want to show to the reader.


There is a subtle difference between this compared with being told, while writing fiction, to come up with the psychological source of your character’s anger or fear or love. For one, there is the sense that the moment already exists and it’s a matter of picking the best one, which is how it should feel in fiction. For another, these fictional character histories often take the form of internal narrative: reflective, lacking action, taking place in the head of the main character.

As an example, I had three sections of backstory in a recent story. I used some dialog to make it less dry and telling but they were largely presented as internal narrative. As a writing exercise, I listed the important information of each section, and for the first two I wrote scenes that would convey those same key points. With a little revision and some transition adjustments I swapped those in and the story came to life. The third section covered a longer period of time and more character change and since it was few words and now the only section of static internal narrative I left it as it was.

But I don’t think I would have written or chosen as good a moment or scene to write had I not first written myself into it, by writing it first as backstory, as largely internal narrative. Perhaps this is because I am a pantser and I needed to figure out the story by writing rather than by making notes or an outline.


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