“A Quaker preacher grandfather on one side of my family and a Wiccan Baptist grandmother — yes, you read that right — on the other side. No wonder my life has been different.”
Want to continue reading this story?
You have just felt the power of a well-constructed purpose statement, the “hook” that draws the reader into your story. (This one from What We Talk about When We’re Over 60, Chapter 23, p. 223, by Deborah.)
The Beginning of Your Memoir
One of the most important things you need to do when writing your story is to develop a purpose statement. Why? There are a number of jobs assigned to that one sentence.
1. The PURPOSE statement controls the content of the story.
2. The PURPOSE statement captures the style (your voice).
3. The PURPOSE statement operates as the guardian of the task ahead.
4. The Purpose statement serves as a daily reminder of the writing goal (so place it in a prominent position).
How does the PURPOSE statement control the content of the story?
The purpose statement limits or controls the content of a story. Unlike the autobiography, a process which calls for writing the entire story of your life, the memoir requires the writer to pen only a “portion” of his/her life story. So ask yourself which portion of your story do you want to tackle first? Choose the best.
A story of adventure?
A story filled with humor?
A story of regret or loss?
Need some further encouragement?
The good news for memoir writers is that — it is a memoir! You have lived this story. So you don’t have to make up a story. In fact, it is likely that you have told your tales to family and friends and maybe (like me) to a classroom full of students (just to gauge the response). So right now all you have to do is rethink that telling. Draft the oral version just as you have told it for years.
Once drafted, examine the narrative and look for the main topic of the story. Is this a story about marriage? Is that a story about a crazy ancestor?
The purpose statement should suggest the direction the story will take. From the example above, I know that this writer is going to take me on a journey. She will answer the implicit question we were left with. How did this weird religious diversity shape her very existence?
Sometimes the purpose statement offers a review of an extraordinary event like a near death experience. Or perhaps the statement works best if delivered as a punchline. Just mold that sentence from the context in your drafted oral tale. Next, rewrite and clarify.
The Ending of Your Memoir
Once you have clarified that statement, think about the ending of the tale. In the end, will the story offer the reader a resolution? A lesson learned?
Example: Punch Line Approach
A story begins like this: “I always imagined my life in a certain way, finding a special someone to share my life with, having children, and settling down in a comfortable environment to raise my family. But it didn’t work out that way.” (What We Talk about…, Ch. 2, p. 7, Marj.)
That story ends like this, after many years of being single: “I am head over heels in love; and for the first time since we were together all those years ago, I feel love and loved. This is a dream come true for both of us (p. 14).”
Do you see how the ending addresses the beginning? The story goes full circle, fulfilling the promise of the purpose of the story.
Example: The (Funny) Bellyache Approach
Beginning: “I’ve never thought of myself as a patient person. I did, after all, inherit that embarrassing family temper. Remember the dad in the movie Christmas Story, down in the basement having the “conversation” with the furnace? Yup, that was my dad.” (What We Talk about…, Ch. 20, p. 183, Karene.)
Ending, after a story about learning patience from her dog: “Just when you think you’re the one who is giving to someone else, it turns out you’re really the one who is doing the receiving” (p. 194).
Her ending demonstrates the lessons she’s learned.
The PURPOSE statement, the beginning hook of your story, operates as the guardian of the task ahead. In other words, the purpose statement should restrict the direction the writer will take to the topic chosen.
At the same time, this sentence should be highly creative. Get started by trying out a punchline opening, a bellyache set-up, suggesting a lesson learned, or suggest a resolution approach.
Basically, as you can see from these examples, the purpose statement allows the writer to sort out the story’s path ahead of time before the writing continues. That one statement serves as your story outline.
The PURPOSE statement serves as a daily reminder
of the writing goal, so place it right up front.