Lisa Dale Norton
Lisa Dale Norton

Your Life As Story: 
Writing Narrative Nonfiction
Dialogue In Memoir, Part I

by Lisa Dale Norton

April 2008

Lisa Dale Norton will be providing a one-hour interactive teleconference in the Authorlink Virtual Classroom March 26, 2008. Find details here.

"Personally, I think dialogue is a necessary component . . . "

Some people are more comfortable using dialogue in Memoir than others.

Personally, I think dialogue is a necessary component, but to use it with ease you have to get over the worry that you are not remembering conversations verbatim. This goes back to the whole issue of "What is Memoir?" and the corollary issue: "What rights do you have as a writer of Memoir?" topics I've covered in this column in the past and no doubt will cover again in the future.

"The most important point to remember is that Memoir is not Journalism."

For now, though, the most important point to remember is that Memoir is not Journalism. You are not a journalist recording facts. You are an artist making truth. What that means is the essence of what you remember about an event‹what it meant to you, how it made you feel‹is what matters. As writers of Memoir we reconstruct memories. That¹s what it means to re-member. We don't make it up; we do the best we can to reconstruct. Of course imagination is part of this. How could it not be?

"Dialogue is about capturing the essence of the moment . . ."

So, when you set out to write a scene with dialogue you simply put yourself back in the moment, remember the general tenor of the conversation and create a dialogue that captures it. Even if you were walking around like a spy with a tape recorder under your lapel and you captured every word of every event you ever lived, I can guarantee you that transcript would make for crappy dialogue on the page. Dialogue is about capturing the essence of the moment, the character, and the point of the scene. Every scene has to have a point. It exists in the story to move the narrative arc forward.

"In the meantime, play with it. Trust your memory . . ."

Next month I'll list some tips for using dialogue to create characters in Memoir. In the meantime, play with it. Trust your memory, and remember that what it serves up is what matters. That's what makes the story your Memoir, so honor that, even if no one else does.

Lisa Dale Norton

Lisa Dale Norton is a regular monthly Authorlink columnist. She is nationally recognized as a writing instructor with a passion for story. Read more about Lisa.

Lisa Dale Norton's new book about memoir, SHIMMERING IMAGES: A HANDY LITTLE GUIDE TO WRITING MEMOIR, will be released by St. Martin 's Press in Spring '08. She is the author of Hawk Flies Above: Journey to the Heart of the Sandhills (Picador USA/St. Martin 's Press), a work combining memoir and nature writing. Lisa teaches for the UCLA Writers' Extension Program and speaks nationally on the power of story and the process of writing your own. She lives in Santa Fe.