Writing Narrative Nonfiction: Crafting A Narrative From Life Experience-Part II

May 31, 2007
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Lisa Dale Norton
Lisa Dale Norton

Your Life As Story: Writing Narrative Nonfiction

Crafting A Narrative From Life Experience — Part II

by Lisa Dale Norton

June 2007

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

Reader Note: This is the conclusion of of a two-part series begun with the May column.

"You chart the course you followed
as you came to terms
with that life-altering event. . .."

—Norton
After you have chosen one of the events from your life, after which everything changed, you begin the work every memoirist must step up to: gathering your material. You chart the course you followed as you came to terms with that life-altering event, taking note of the potent memories that rise–the people you encountered and the events that filled your days as you walked a new landscape, finding your way through a time of change and transition.
"Look for vivid memory pictures.
I call them Shimmering Images. . ."

—Norton

Look for vivid memory pictures. I call them Shimmering Images, and I¹ve referred to them in this column before. They are the memories you¹ve never forgotten. They appear like photographs in your mind. You¹ve seen them a million times. They¹ve come back to you again and again-the image of your neighbor hanging laundry on a clothesline, the car running the red light, the package that waited on your doorstep when you returned from work…whatever.

"These Shimmering Images become
the key supports of your narrative."

—Norton

I call these memories Shimmering Images because I believe they actually vibrate with the energy of the story that waits inside them to be told.

These Shimmering Images become the key supports of your narrative. All you have to do it gather them and write them. Just remember they must be Shimmering images from that period in your life when you dealt with the event after which everything changed. If you stay focused on stories from that arc of narrative‹that period in your life‹you will avoid becoming overwhelmed by all the other stuff that¹s happened in your life.

"Write each Shimmering Image
in a white-hot first draft . . ."

—Norton

As you are working on this process, you can make a second list, of Shimmering Images. Keep adding others as they present themselves. All you have to do it make a list with a word or two signifying each memory. Then you choose one of the memories and write what you remember. Write each Shimmering Image in a white-hot first draft not worrying about grammar, tense, language‹anything! Just burn your memory onto the page. After you¹ve written a bunch of these Shimmering Images, you will begin to see how they fit together.

". . . the journey . . . is the coming to terms with an event after which
everything was different . . ."

—Norton

Remember that the journey of your memoir (the body of the story) is the coming to terms with an event after which everything was different, something that upset the status quo of your life. Choose just one event, and then seek the Shimmering Images from that time in your life.

". . . that creates narrative pull/tension in your story."
—Norton

It is that journey, the unfolding of the way you came to terms with change, that creates narrative pull/tension in your story. The reader keeps reading to see what you will do. "What happened next?" the reader asks, and turns the page….

   
About
Lisa Dale Norton
Lisa Dale Norton is the author of Hawk Flies Above: Journey to the Heart of the Sandhills (Picador USA/St. Martin's Press). She teaches for the UCLA Writers' Extension Program, the Gotham Writers' Workshop, and the Whidbey MFA Program. Lisa speaks nationally on her passion: the power of story to transform lives. She lives in Santa Fe. www.lisadalenorton.com

 

 

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