A couple of years ago, I gave a series of one-day memoir writing workshops, which gave people a chance to write about their lives. The workshops were a success, so I decided to revive them.
I was delighted to discover that interest in memoir writing was still as strong as ever, and the workshop soon filled up. On a Sunday morning, ten women gathered in a beautiful, sunny room to begin unlocking their memories and turning those memories into stories.
This writing workshop aimed to show the participants that their daily lives contained all the material they needed for stories. It would also show them that they only needed to record their lives with one small story at a time, event by event. This would take away that sense of drowning in story that often paralyses people and stops them from writing.
We began with the building blocks of story, which I’ve discussed in previous blog posts. After warm-ups, we did one exercise to cover each of the three building blocks: plot, character and setting. For plot, the participants recorded a small but significant injustice that happened to them when they were young. Everyone has a story like this – a time when they were promised a prize that wasn’t delivered, or when they were left out of a family occasion. Small incidents that sear themselves into your memory. Recording them makes for vivid stories.
Then we moved to character, and the participants did a character sketch, a sort of portrait in words of someone significant in their lives. They wrote CV type details like their name, age and address, described their appearance, and gave more personal details, like their hobbies, jobs, and family circumstances. The most important part of the sketch was the character’s secret past, a detail about them that was unusual or wasn’t known to the general public. This detail often forms the basis for rich stories.
Finally, we discussed setting, the time and the place where a story happens, and the characters wrote about rooms in their houses that meant a lot to them. I asked them to write about their bedrooms, as people often have a strong relationship with their bedroom, but they could write about any room that they were attached to. They wrote about what the room looked like, sounded like and smelled like, and most importantly, how it made them feel.
Journey Through the Senses
After lunch, it was time for a journey through the senses. With memories of good food still in their minds, the participants captured the taste of oranges, which can be a challenging fruit, and recorded a memory of a meal which was either horrible or delicious.
Oranges work all of a writer’s senses.
Then they told the life stories of unusual objects. I gave each of them an object from my collection of weird treasures, and they imagined where it came from, what adventures it had had and how it came to be here. This exercise was the hit of the day, producing vivid stories packed with event and emotion.
Finally, we travelled through soundscapes, recording the sounds we loved and despised, and listening to a piece of music which produced mixed reactions. The participants were asked to pick five words that came to mind when they heard the music. I deliberately pick pieces of music that aren’t easy on the ear, based on the fact that uncomfortable sensations produce writing that is just as eloquent as that produced by beautiful sensations.
If you feel you’d like to record your own memories through story and you’d like to be included in an upcoming memoir workshop, send me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add you to my newsletter mailing list.