About the course

What is this course about?

This course is to help you write real people: rendering them as characters on the page so that readers find them fully rounded, detailed and fascinating. This is not as simple as it sounds. In fact, memoir, or life writing, is often regarded by non-writers as ‘easy’. It is actually anything but! If you have ever tried to write about your lived experience, then you will know that it is a very challenging form. Although the ‘facts’ might be at your fingertips – after all, you have lived through your story– communicating your experiences to a reader is not as straightforward as it first appears.

I know this from personal experience. I am a memoir writer and novelist. I published my memoir, Are we home yet?, in 2020 and I hold a PhD in Life Writing. I have now moved on to writing fiction and I find many parallels about writing about real events and those I have invented. Both require a commitment to story, which I am using here to mean a crafted narrative which satisfies readers’ expectations. This means that the memoir writer takes a series of events and moulds them into something intelligible, so that they become part of a story with meaning and resonance for the reader, rather than a random series of events.

However, you were there witnessing what happened, but your reader wasn’t. The reader is a stranger to you, the people around you and your life. To make them want to engage with your memories, they need coddling, directing and reassuring. And, you only have words to achieve this. It isn’t surprising that it requires all of the memoirist’s writing skills to communicate their relationships and experiences so that they produce the desired effect on the reader. It also requires the people in memoirs, your characters, to be wonderfully vivid.

This craft is often hidden from the reader, all the better for them to become absorbed in the story rather than the writing style. But it is still very much present. It is a rare memoir which unspools as an uninterrupted stream of consciousness, even if it eventually appears that way. Memoir is as re-written, edited, and structured as any other form of writing.

What is presented to the reader then, is an artifice. Rather than the absolute ‘truth’, it is actually a reconstruction of the truth, with all of the lapses in memory and concessions to story-telling this implies. Key to the success of this construction is how real your characters seem to your reader, and how compelling they find them. The reader must be prepared to follow your characters to the end of your story. And none is more important than the character of you, the author.

Complete and continue