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What is the number 1 Mistake Nonfiction Memoir Writers Must Avoid?

Part 2 of the memoir--The Hero’s Journey, Three-Part Act, or Seven Point Story Structure

What is the mistake every nonfiction memoir writer must avoid? Not making a plan. Yes. That is it. It is one word, plan. If you don’t have a plan for your story, it will take you decades and years to find where you are going—if you are going anywhere at all. When it comes to any writing, planning, and structure must be a part of it. I know, I know. What about creation, brainstorming, and allowing for flow? The truth is that these essential elements are found when you have some structure.

How is it possible? Brainstorming is a great place to gather the ideas, allow for flow, and flexibility. This is the creation--making or gathering the “stuff.” It is all part of the preparation or prewrite process. Once you have created “stuff” you take it and organize it. This is the planning process. Now you may not know where everything goes and what happens next, but you will have a structure to find it.

We will cover three structures: Hero’s Journey, Three-Act Play, and the Seven Point Story Structure, so that you can write that unforgettable memoir (without having to waste time writing and rewriting and have years slip away as you struggle).

What Is A Hero's Journey?

The hero’s journey can get heavy details but here are the basics:

  • Called to an Adventure

  • Trials happen

  • They feel there is no return/all hope is lost/ ultimate destruction

  • Rebirth/Revelation happens which leads to

  • Transformation

  • Atonement and Return

The journey that the character goes through empowers them into transformation. This process engages us as the reader whether the story is fiction or nonfiction. So, writers of memoirs--see if the story you want to tell fits in this plotline.

What Is A Three-act Play Or The Seven Point Story Structure?

The Three-Act Play, when cutting it down to the basics, is this:

  • The setup/character conflict

  • confrontation/rising tension,

  • Resolution

Three act plays need to be similar to the hero’s journey. However, I was struggling to get myself clear enough during the confrontation processes when I started writing my memoir with this structure. So I went a bit deeper and found this the Seven Point Story Structure.

Seven Point Story Structure: It too has the setup, confrontation, resolution but breaks it down into more moving parts (seven to be exact).

  1. Hook

  2. Plot

  3. Pinch1

  4. Midpoint

  5. Pinch 2

  6. Plot 2/climax

  7. Resolution

(Thanks to Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Tayler).

I broke down my memoir into the seven-point system.

The hook: Childhood pain; When pain is not relieved, the results are reckless. I pulled the readers in by giving them two main pain stories that connect to readers and push the boundaries.

Plot Point 1: The Attraction; Similarities, commonalities, and convenience draw people together. In this section I share 3 chapters of our relationship that became deep.

Ouch! Our first Pinch! Thrills: When you witness the creative brilliance of someone, it is a thrill! The thrills were filled with joy and terror. This was that first awakening.

Midpoint: for my story this actually happened in the “middle of the story.” I don’t want to spoil anything, but wow it gave me the chills watching someone fall to the shadow of their mind.

Time for another pinch! DANG this one almost killed me. Near Kills: When you are distracted, you take your eye off the enemy.

Plot Point 2/Climax: Survive; You are the prey, he is the hunter, and you don’t know where he is amongst the foliage and density of his mind. Enough said.

The resolution: Revive, restore, regain, start new towards a life of consciousness. And, to wrap this up, I had to write an epilogue to give the rest of the story in a fashion that would not fill up another 5 chapters.

Can A Memoir Really Have All Of These Parts?

YES! But wait, this feels a lot like fiction and not non-fiction. Here's the scoop. Stories hook us in. Great stories have this power. If you are thinking about writing a memoir find out if your story has this formula test it out. Here are a few more memoirs that follow the Hero’s Journey model:

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter's Memoir by Martha Stettinius

The three-act play is also demonstrated in the lives of great people like Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Rosa Parks.

The seven-point story structure like I showed you with my memoir can really support your writing to make sure that pinch points are there and that you see the changes happening on the paper as your readers go through it.

The point is that memoirs use any of the three structures to make connections with the reader and to make the story flow. After all, we love stories that pull us in, bring us to the emotional breaking point, and then with the resolution we will find that light and hope. Your story is important and must be told. By the way, if you are looking for support in any of this, I am here to offer that support. Click on the picture to book a free 30-minute call with me today. So the question is, out of the three structures how are you going to write your memoir?

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