Most of the stories that we want to write are about situations and people that changed us and shifted our lives in a new direction. We call these “turning point moments.” Being clear and making lists of these moments can provide the basic outline of your memoir.
These moments may include dark times, such as illness, danger, secrets, and identity crises. Or happier moments such as falling in love, spiritual epiphanies, moments of awe, wonder or transcendence; a great vacation, or a momentous meeting.
Let’s look further at what a turning point is, and why it’s important to find them as you construct your memoir.
When we look back, there are certain moments when everything changed in our lives, when nothing was the same afterward. We may not realize it at the time, but looking back, we can easily locate most of those important moments. As we reflect upon our memories, we list the significant events, and draw from this list when outlining the scope of our memoir. The more we work with our lists, the more memories arise.
Think about these categories of turning points:
- Births—Who; when; circumstances; myths and stories around the birth.
- Deaths—Who; situation; family reactions to the death.
- Love relationships—Who; When; significance; lessons learned from the loved one.
- Special friendships—Who; when—at what time of life; importance of the person; what did they bring/give/take away?
- Mentors—Who; when; what did you learn from them?
- School events, sports, awards, positive and negative experiences with teachers.
- Wonder and awe as a child—describe these moments of wisdom and wonder—where? What did you think/feel? Where were you?
- Church or religious ritual—Baptism, confirmation, Bat Mitzvah—when, what did you think and feel? Did it change your life—and how?
- Times of inner guidance and wisdom, inspiration, creativity—list these, then write from the list.
- Dark nights of the Soul—when you felt that all was lost and there was no way back. When? What specifically was happening—write in scene.
- How were you treated—better or worse by those around you when you were sick?
- What were your feelings about medicine, doctors, and your relationship to your body? These can be life changing. What did you learn from these experiences?
- Illnesses in the family—how did these events alter your life?
Safety and danger
- When did you feel in danger? What did you do and think? Be specific—write in the child’s point of view. Or an adult’s point of view if the danger occurred when you were older.
- What were your safe places—forts, hideouts, your room? Other people’s houses? Describe and note when and where you might seek shelter or comfort.
- Were you ever bullied as a child? Who bullied you, and how? Did anyone notice? What life decisions did you make as a result?
- Secrets—What were your secrets; what secrets did you know that others were hiding? What were the consequences of revealing secrets?
- Natural disasters, accidents, unusual events. What were they; when; how old were you; how did they affect you?
Family legacies and myths such as these: “We are one big happy family.” “Aunt Alda is always upset.” “Sarah is a troublemaker.”
- What myths and legacies were passed down through your family?
- Write a scene showing one of these myths.
- What “bad” family story do you disagree with?
- What is your favorite “good” family story, and why? What does it show about the family?
Turning Point Lists Turn into Stories
- Make lists of your turning points.
- Next, locate these turning points on a timeline that begins with your birth. Mark the decades through time and set the turning points on the timeline. It helps to draw the timeline on a large sheet of 18×24 inch paper and create it in pencil so you can add and erase easily.
- Each turning point moment can be a chapter in your memoir. Write the scenes from your turning point list, and you will have the basic structure of your memoir.
You don’t need to write all the stories in chronological order. Capture first in a flurry of quick writing the memories that strike you emotionally, that you feel powerfully in your body. Researching history, locations, and news articles can add to and deepen your stories.
Write a new story every week, and in a year, you will have 52 stories!