Write Part of My Memoir in November, Day 3: What’s My (Desire) Line?

Write Part of My Memoir

Welcome to Day 3 of my scattershot look at the memoir-writing process.

When I started writing Getting Naked for Money, I had what I thought was a pretty good idea of how to structure the book. I would focus on only one part of my life, the years that involved travel editing and writing, and move the story along chronologically, weaving in relevant details of the past. My humorous adventures on the road and insider gossip about the travel industry would keep readers interested.

Maybe, maybe not. Because what I’m describing is not a narrative arc.

If you think researching the details of your past is difficult, creating a riveting narrative to hang them on is far more complicated — and far more crucial.

Even a memoir with fascinating people in it — say, practically everyone you’d want to meet in rock and roll history — may suffer from its absence.  While finding parts of it excellent, a reviewer of Elvis Costello’s new memoir, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, calls it an “often frustrating scrapbook of an autobiography,” one that “contains more characters than a Dickens novel, minus the discipline of a driving narrative.”

I’ve written quite a bit of my book but, according to the editor to whom I sent my first two (out of three) sections, my narrative arc sometimes wobbles. I’ve always hated food that wobbles — no Jello for me, thank you — so this critique hit me particularly hard.

I’m trying to whip it into shape.

According to an excellent article on memoir in Writer’s Digest, the first step towards creating a good narrative arc is establishing a “desire line,” a summation that will answer the question, “What did you as the narrator/protagonist want in the story you’re telling?” For example:

I wanted to stay in the police department.
I wanted to love my stepson.
I wanted to make a new life in Uganda after the death of my wife.
I wanted to be a model though I weighed 160 pounds.

It’s the struggle to achieve the desire line that drives the memoir.

My desire line is, “I wanted to be a published writer.” If you had to sum up the driving force in your book  — or your life — what would it be?

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About the Author

Edie Jarolim is a writer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. Sign up on this blog to get updates about her humorous tell-all/memoir, GETTING NAKED FOR MONEY: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All.

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  1. Laura Kelly says:

    Your desire line sounds eminently more doable than “I want to be a model though I weighed 160 pounds,” although maybe not at this mid-writing point.

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