Write Your Memoir Opening as a Microcosm of the Whole

Opening Salvos #10 by Matilda Butler

Blog-hope-edelmanWhat are you trying to achieve with the opening sentences of your memoir? Are you looking for some writing advice? How about getting some writing tips from a New York Times bestselling author?

Kendra Bonnett and I had the pleasure of interviewing Hope Edelman, bestselling author of Motherless Daughters and four other non-fiction books last week. Hope has just published her first full-length memoir, The Possibility of Everything, and we wanted to get her take on a number of issues related to memoir writing.

Our conversation with Hope took place several days before her volume reached the shelves of bookstores. As we talked in the few minutes prior to the official start of the interview, she mentioned that a photographer from the LA Times had called a couple of hours earlier to say that he wanted to come over later that day to prepare a spread for the Sunday paper. It reminded me how we all juggle multiple roles and tasks. Even bestselling authors have to get the house ready for an unexpected visitor. She said that she’d just finished vacuuming before our call. 

Blog-apple-new By now, you probably know that I always talk to authors about openings — sentences, paragraphs, chapters for their memoir. After all, I call this blog “Opening Salvos.” The conversation with Hope did not disappoint. We had an extended discussion of what she wanted to achieve in her opening as well as her general advice to writers. 

Kendra and I were both taken by her discussion of how the opening needs to be a microcosm of the entire book. I was stumped about how to illustrate that concept with a photo and then I thought about an apple. If you think of your memoir as a complete apple, then you might imagine that if you took a slice of the apple, it would be like the first chapter. It has some of the skin and flesh, even part of the core and its seeds. Yet, it isn’t the whole story. 

As Hope talked with us about openings, we asked her to read the first paragraph in her memoir. She took us through what she was doing in that paragraph and how it hinted at the journey she was making as a woman and a mother to find healing for her daughter in a Mayan village in Belize. 

In addition to a discussion about openings, we discussed creative non-fiction’s role in memoir writing, the differences between writing a non-fiction book and a memoir, how to take an embarrassment of riches in memoir material and shape it into a memoir others will want to read. 

If you’d like to learn more about Hope Edelman’s writing tips and techniques, please join us at Women’s Memoirs where you can listen to her interview.

One response to “Write Your Memoir Opening as a Microcosm of the Whole

  1. Matilda and Kendra,
    I enjoyed Hope’s guestpost, writing prompt, and audio interview on your site http://www.womensmemoirs.com.
    Hmmm…the part stands for the whole. I looked up classical figures of speech and found: “Synecdoche: A form of metonymy, in which a part stands for the whole.”
    Or, in this case, the whole is included in the part.
    Janet Riehl

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