One of the more interesting experiences I’ve been having since writing my memoir Accidental Soldier: What My Service in the Israel Defense Forces Taught Me about Faith, Courage and Love, is really listening for the story behind the scenes. More than 25 years have passed since my service, but every time I sit down to write, I hear another voice revealing another layer to the heroine’s journey as part of the story arc.
Memoir writing is very tricky. You have to choose the right scene from whatever experience you’re trying to write and very very carefully so that there’s a clear story arc otherwise it’ll be harder for the reader to follow your transformation. Even with a scene you feel strongly passionate about, you still need to evaluate its story relevance. Use these three top ways to evaluate whether your memoir is just a collection of loosely scattered scenes or is there enough “story glue” holding them together:
Take for example, the day of my 28 kilometer march after 6 weeks of grueling basic training at a super-big training camp towards the center of the country.
We are led to one of the side entrances of the camp for our starting point. More than forty five girls and a dozen commanding officers mill about in this open space. At first, I run like a puppy from Svetlana to Eina who chirp incessantly in Russian, and I’m trying to get their attention by saying Shilish? a word in Russian I’ve heard many times for “Have you heard?” Eina looks at me like I’m some sort of clown. I had hoped by now, Svetlana, Eina and Vered would see beyond my kookiness and sense my eagerness and excitement. But Eina pulls away her body slightly, twists the corners of her mouth and continues to speak in Russian. I stick with Svetlana instead.
If you’ve read snippets of my memoir, then you’ll know that one of the biggest lessons or takeaways, is how I manage to get along with a different foreign mentality of Russian girls during the duration of my service. The Russians in my group have always been known to antagonize me, and the interaction hasn’t always been very smooth. On this important day, I am hoping we finally will find a way to get along.
This above paragraph is the set-up for letting the reader how I really feel in the next paragraph:
I’m filled with nervous anticipation. For the most part, I have nothing to fear having trained well with the rest of the girls with my platoon since my punishments. Even the thought of carrying another soldier on a stretcher doesn’t bother me because we’ve been trained to work closely together as a group.
2. Your scene shows growth. Growth needs to be different for each scene and for each chapter. You can’t repeat the same cycle of growth otherwise you’ll tire your reader. As you move your reader along on your hero’s journey which should be riddled with conflict, you move yourself as a character along the growth cycles.
Soon enough, I feel myself fading away and hear myself saying the dreaded words in Hebrew, Ani lo ichola yoter! “I can’t go on any more!” I don’t want to quit. Please let me finish the march! I squeak the words breathlessly. Svetlana eventually hears me and to my great surprise, grabs me by the arm and pulls me so close, we begin running at the same pace as the others. Boi, Dorit, Boi, – “C’mon!” she shouts. With each shout, I try and keep the pace. I try and insert my new mantra for positive thinking inspired by my former officer-turned friend, Galit. Her words of inner strength once fearlessly held me together at the breaking point of my punishments, but now, they’re not quite enough to keep going for another ten kilometers. My side muscles ache now with intense jabbing pain.
“Ani lo yichola yoter!” I cry again.
This time Svetlana grabs my gun and any of the medical supplies she can carry.
Just at that moment, someone shouts, “Put her on the stretcher!”
I lay flat as I possibly can, and grab unto the sides trusting that my army colleagues have my back. It is not exactly the most comfortable ride, but I am more focused on surviving this ordeal.
3. Your scenes shows resolution. Your reader wants to ultimately see him/herself in your story. S/he wants to see elements of hope mixed with anguish and then see which of those two elements eventually wins out.
There you have it: top three ways to anchor your scenes by really zooming in on what’s at-stake for your character, planting seeds for growth, and finally showing the resolution.
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