To Nail Your Memoir’s Beginning, Stop Looking in the Wrong Direction

From Jane Friedman:

You’ve been told the first fifty pages of your memoir can make or break your publishing dreams. . . . So, you’ve active-verbed the hell out of your sentences, sharpened your imagery, and made sure every period is correctly placed.

But when the queries aren’t answered, or they’re answered with an unhelpful “thank you for submitting, but it’s not right for me,” you wonder what’s missing from your manuscript.

The beginning of every memoir must hook the reader, establish the setting, and reveal the situation and stakes. Most writers work tirelessly to develop these elements. But spending all your time at the beginning of act one might mean you’re looking in the wrong direction. Instead, try studying the end of your manuscript. Your closing pages shouldn’t just reflect all you’ve learned, or the triumph you feel—they must reveal your story’s resolution.

Once you know what you’re resolving, you can establish a clear path for getting there. This is essential because most openings are revised to death in an exhaustive line-by-line edit. The tedium of this process can cause you to rush through the rest of your manuscript, resulting in a middle that sags and an ending that flags.

Even if your opening pages light up an agent’s enthusiasm, that fervor will quickly wane if the writing that follows seem like it’s not going anywhere specific. Sadly, beautiful sentences can’t hide this issue. That’s why you must know your destination, no matter how your memoir is structured.

In artfully rendered manuscripts, the opening and closing pages give the story a sense of symmetry. Screenwriter Blake Snyder . . . says, “[The opening image] sets the tone, mood, and style … and shows us a before snapshot of him or her.” The before snapshot is the narrator in full problem mode, well before they’ve figured things out. “The final image is the opposite of the opening image. It is your proof that change has occurred and that it’s real.”

. . . .

In The Glass Castle opening, Jeannette Walls avoids the homeless, dysfunctional parents she ran away from at eighteen. By the end, the entire family eats Thanksgiving together, showing that her shame has morphed into acceptance.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Or, you could format your well-written and polished memoir, hire a freelance cover designer to make a terrific cover and publish it on KDP and never worry about trying to impress a name-dropping New York agent.

And keep all the money.

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