Three techniques to move your exciting memoir forward

Have you ever felt that “ah-ha!”moment of satisfaction when a word or phrase clicks with your writing style like mine did today?

Today, my MWG Memoir1 group met via Zoom for our bimonthly critique.  We use the same critique format as our former in-person library meetings: each member reads his or hers piece, and then we take our turns commenting.

One member shared his piece about dealing with his mentally ill wife.  Afterwards, a member of our group commented that the piece had “forward momentum.”  That phrase struck me and stuck with me.  Forward momentum is what makes good writing.  That is what makes us want to turn the page to read more.  How do you get there?

Try a teaser at the end of a chapter.  The writer above ended the chapter  with this sentence: “I have no choice [but] to ask her for a divorce.”  That is a page turner.

Dialogue moves you forward because discussions have an end purpose.  This is not writing dialogue for the sake of writing dialogue.  I’m talking about specific dialogue between you and others, followed by either your short, punchy thoughts or the speaker’s specific question that you do or do not expect and anticipate.

Consider my example using the mentally ill wife piece:

“I have news for you about your wife,” said the doctor.

That tone of voice, those carefully chosen words, that’s never a good sign.  It’s the kind of emotional bomb dropped in sappy drama movies.

“The news is difficult,” he continued.  “Are you ready to hear it?”

I don’t want to hear it, but he’s telling me anyway.

A third way to entice readers is by using a timestamp to share increasing information.  This moves people with you as you reveal details about you and the story.  “Over the next few days” is a great setup rather than using a chunky paragraph of information brain dump.

Consider this:

Over the next few days, I learned a lot about him.  Monday, he charmed me with stories about his international military assignments.  On Wednesday, he shared the reasons why he re-enlisted, but he never asked me why I decided to quit my most recent job.  By Friday, I found myself staring over his shoulder while he talked about battles and medals.  The squirrel shimmying up the backyard tree was more exciting.

Of these three techniques, I find my writing often combines the first two.  I can struggle with dialogue, so I want my words to serve a dual purpose: blending teasers and questions gives my memoirs the push through my thoughts for details while asking questions gives the reader a moment to pause and ask themselves questions.  Powerful.

Are you ready to write with deliberate forward momentum?  Is there a technique that resonates with you to engage readers in your story?

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