Chapter 10 of my memoir, Accidental Soldier: What My Service in the Israel Defense Forces Taught Me About Faith, Courage and Love and I’m faced with a daunting task of writing about a bullying scene which is key to solving my problem with a specific garin member, who happens to be British and a new immigrant. His name’s Darren.
I’d just arrived at a new kibbutz smack in the middle of the Negev Desert.
Fresh from ulpan, I am more confident taking language risks, and especially with soon-to-be inductees from other countries. For the first six weeks of army service, we’ll attend a special ulpan, which is reassuring. But that is still too far away…I need to make sure I’m making an effort to bond with these girls past the point where I’d stopped at Ritamin. It’s my number one concern.
Along with the insightful advice from my editor, here’s some writing tips that have been helpful for really expressing what’s at stake for myself as a character.
Write As If You’re Reporting the Action
During the most painful and vulnerable moments of the story that trigger painful memories, the best thing I’ve been able to do is to report the action. To write as if I’m an observer:
Example of a story snippet:
At our next weekly meeting, Darren stands up and shouts, “I want to throw Dorit out of the garin. Like right now!”
Andy turns to Darren and cries, “Now, hush. This is getting totally out of control. You’ve got to stop this!”
“Well, look at Dorit… she does nothing except laugh at Andy’s limp!” I can gather that this might be one reason why Darren doesn’t like me but I quickly remember all the threatening encounters at the dining room.
Up until now, Andy didn’t exactly know why Svetlana and I would laugh incessantly in his presence and now that he knows, I’m a bit embarrassed and even nervous as to what he might think of me now even if he’s mature and thoughtful. From now on, I will trust Andy knowing that he has the best interests of our garin at heart, but I am still crushed.
Connect the Trigger Points to Something from Home
Although I’m writing about an experience that has happening in a foreign country, the experiences are deeply universal. It’s important to contrast the triggers with an experience that reminds me of home.
Example of a story snippet:
My insecurities about serving in the IDF have now become voiced by some guy I hardly even now. So much for bonding. I’m weak in the knees. I look at the fire burning in his eyes as if he’s on some kind of mission. My eyes well with tears. Words are stuck in my throat. Geraldine immediately stands up and speaks up for me as she pounds her fist on the table.
The age old adage “show, not tell” comes in very handy when trying to show what’s at stake for a character whether you’re writing memoir or a novel.
Here’s a story snippet of the same situation of being threatened by a garin member from Britain named Darren who will not stop until he throws me out. To the other members of the garin, this isn’t a problem since they don’t feel their existence is a threat, but I do. Darren is relentless.
As you’ll see in the final paragraph, I combine both show and tell tactics. (Memoir does require some narrative summary.)
Example of a Story Snippet
One evening during dinner, Darren approaches Andy with a big heart pat on the back. Andy and I are both chopping vegetables for our salad and I’ve now started treating Andy more respectfully. I create a mosaic of huge cucumber and tomato wedges while Andy cuts tomato and cucumber slivers – even finer and more delicate than the typical Israeli salad. He’s only halfway through and I’m already cramming in my first bite.
I pick a bit of cucumber from the back of my mouth. “Andy,” Darren whispers furiously. “We have to have a meeting tonight. Actually, we need to have it…now!”
“Darren,” Andy exclaims in his polite British accent. “You know you can’t just call a meeting like that. People are eating dinner after a hard day’s work. Plus, not liking the girls is not a good enough reason to hold a meeting – you very well know that.”
“Okay, okay.” Darren says hastily and walks away, but not before throwing a sharp look my way. I immediately sense the expected: there’s more to come. All this time I’ve been bonding with all the members of my new garin and Darren’s the only one standing in the way, trying to make my life hell. I’m starting to get an attack of the heebie-jeebies. My palms start feeling sweaty and my stomach starts churning. I choke on a piece of cucumber just as Andy pops in a spoonful of salad. I think I’m going to throw-up.
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