May 03, 2009

Writing about memories: effective techniques

Writing vividly about memories includes all the skills of careful observing, but it adds additional techniques that are described below. Not all writing about memories uses all five techniques, but often one or two of them will transform a lifeless or boring account into an effective narrative.

  1. Using detailed observation of people, places, and events. Writing vividly about memories requires many of the skills of careful observation. Give actual dialogue where appropriate.
  2. Creating specific scenes set in time and space. Show your reader the actual events, don't just tell about events. Narrate specific incidents as they actually happened. Avoid monotonously summarizing events or presenting just the conclusions (for instance, "those experiences really changed my life").
  3. Noting changes, contrasts, or conflicts. Changes in people or places, contrasts between two different memories or between memories of expectations and the reality, or conflicts between people or ideas will often lead to the meaning or importance of a remembered person, place, or event.
  4. Making connections between past events, people, or places and the present. The main idea of a narrative often grows out of the changes and conflicts or arises from the connections you make between past and present.
  5. Discovering and focusing on a main idea. A remembering essay is not a random narrative of the writer's favorite memories. A narrative should have a clear main point, focus on a main idea, or make a discovery. The essay should clearly show why the memories are important.

Using details, creating scenes, noting conflicts, making connections between past and present, and focusing on a main idea are all important techniques, but you should also keep several other points in mind. Normally, you should write in the first person, using "I" or "we" throughout the narrative. Usually, you will write in past tense, but sometimes you may wish to lend immediacy to the events by retelling them in the present tense, as though they are happening now. Finally, you may stick with a straightforward chronological order, or you may begin near the end and use a flashback to tell the beginning of the story.

The key to effective remembering, though, is to get beyond generalities and conclusions about your experiences ("I had a lot of fun — those days really changed my life") to specific incidents set in time and place which show how and why those days changed your life. The specific incidents should show your main point or dominant idea.