Memoir Writing Series {Writing Compelling Characters}

You’d think in memoir, which in essence could be you writing your own story, you’d have to think less about character, but that’s not true.

Character is everything and it’s what gives voice to a story; it’s what makes you care and it’s what makes you want to take the journey. It therefore stands to reason, be it memoir or fiction, characters need to be interesting, compelling, quirky, original. If you are writing about you, you need to step outside of yourself and try to see you as someone else does. This might mean asking lots of questions and seeking honest answers. Ask about your character traits. Ask close friends to write down how they see you. You might be surprised! Be prepared to be!

All humans are by their very nature unpredictable, and in fiction I am constantly saying that to make them come to life on the page you need to capture that essence. Make them distinct and individual. Think about what they want and what they don’t have; this is the essence of all story and perhaps what they think they don’t want, says writer/editor Gali Kronenberg in a terrific talk at the West Coast Writers’ Conference last month.

Gali helps storytellers and visionaries write and edit books, articles and op-eds. A former LA Times columnist, Gali has edited and ghostwritten memoirs, nonfiction books and speeches for global clients from Prime Ministers, Fortune 500 CEOs, foundations, academics and therapists to New Age teachers. He knows what he is talking about! Check him out on his website: 


(Photo borrowed from his website)

Gali Kronenberg

Gali Kronenberg

Gali suggests that when writing memoir, and, in fact, this is true of any story, then you have to think carefully about scene placement and he suggests that scene cards are a useful tool. There are all kinds of software programs that allow you to work in this way. I was advised, when writing my first novel, to have scenes on postcards I could move about as I edited, same more archaic principle, whatever works for you! I use a spreadsheet now, but a way of arranging scenes and thinking about the function of scenes will really help to shape your story. Lose what doesn’t move plot and reveal character. Keep the story moving.

Also think about how characters are revealed by situations Gali suggests and I think this is a great way of saying it. Don’t give us big blocks of exposition about characters, reveal them as the story unfolds and use action to show these traits rather than telling the reader. And as you edit, he says, you need to use the situations to create tension, stretch the band he says.

There is magic claims Gali in the juxtaposition of scenes and I love this quote. I say this all the time, in a different way, that there are many ways to tell the same story and it’s in your structure and later your fine tuning, in how you bring scenes together that the true power of the story comes into being. The film analogy, that you all know I am fan of, continues when he talks about zooming in on a moment and thinking about the close shot, so don’t always go straight to the face. I like this. Why not have a go at taking a scene when something important needs to be said, but zoom in like a fly on the wall and how about start with what he is doing with his hands. Think about body language.

Gali has a phenomenal record of memoir writing and ghostwriting amongst his many accolades and so this is just a small taster of some of the things he said in his workshop. Find out more by following him on Facebook and checking out his website.

Okay that’s your Monday morning lesson! Have a great day everyone!

Writers Conference 6

Gali workshop

In the workshop (notice the back of my head here! I am the one with the fuzzy red curls!)


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