Let’s imagine you’re having lunch with a new friend—we’ll call her Gloria—and you want to share the story of your life.
Where do you begin?
Do you begin with your childhood, telling Gloria about your parents and the home where you grew up?
But how can they understand your childhood if they don’t know about your grandmother, who lived with you in those early years? She was always worried, because of her own traumatic childhood—you should tell her story, too.
You always blamed Grandma for your lifelong habit of erring on the side of caution.
But there was one time you weren’t cautious. It was when you fell in love with someone who was—as your mother kept telling you—totally inappropriate for you.
Should you begin with that story, perhaps?
But to understand how surprising that love story was—the one that led to your marriage—you’d have to tell Gloria about your teenage and young adult years, and how hard it was to find anyone to love.
Or maybe you should start in the present moment, and tell Gloria about your current complicated love life?
But first she’d have to understand how deeply you longed to find a new partner after your husband died—yes, you’ll have to tell the story of his illness and death, too.
Oh heavens to Betsy! Where to begin? Which stories to tell? Where to end up? What will Gloria find most intriguing?
Friends, I’ve just given you a taste of the memoirist’s perennial quest to find the right narrative arc for her story.
Where do we begin? What key episodes do we include? And how do we bring our story to a satisfying close?
If you’re a novelist, you ask the same questions, but you have a bit more freedom of invention in your answers—as long as your story rings true.
An honest and supportive community of writers–and/or an expert writing coach–will help you determine the best starting point for your complicated story, as well as which key points to include, and how to determine when you’ve reached the end.
Sometimes it involves a lot of trial and error, a lot of writing and rewriting, pruning and expanding until your story reaches just the right shape, the right tension, the right bounce.
Stick with it! Reach deep for the tender truths that are seeking to be born through your creative spirit. What task could be more important?