One of the biggest reasons we write memoir is to tell our stories, but good memoir not only tells a story, but describes the journey the author has been on which might include their own faults along with the people who might have abused them.
When I read so-called memoirs that simply go on and on complaining about every horrible thing ever done by the narcissistic, I often wonder where the rest of the story is that I’m missing. Oh I believe the author and I fully understand how a narc parent can make life super miserable for their child, but I just want to shout, “Where is your story friend?” The truth is I don’t enjoy the experience of reading such books as much as I enjoy those well written story memoirs that reveal actual character arcs and show us how the author herself is only human and struggles in life as well. Let’s face it, we’ve all got some fleas from our parents. None of us are perfect and growing up in a dysfunctional family will always leave some sort of a scar.
On the flip side, as much as I want to believe the narcissistic parents portrayed in such books are all bad, experience tells me that most people–especially narcissists can have a very charming side. If you doubt this, read the book “The Sociopath at the Breakfast Table” by the Drs. Jane and Tim McGregor. Whether your narcissistic parent was in-your-face-controlling or behind-the-scenes-sneaky, they probably also had some positive attributes.
Our goal in writing memoir is to tell the truth as we see it. This includes the positive attributes of our family members along with our own struggles. None of us are all good or all bad. When people write a binary story where the characters all good or all bad, they’ve missed the point of memoir–which is to tell an authentic story.
Writing about the good and the bad can give your story depth and meaning instead of just presenting a negative caricature of someone who abused you. Allow your memoir to reveal your heart against the backdrop of frail and often failed humanity while helping the reader realize how circumstances, events and choices can affect our lives.
The people we might go no contact with have some redeeming quality–even if the only good we can find is that we were born—we can speak gratitude about the gift of life. Why is this important? Because until we can be honestly grateful, we might struggle to be honest about our tragic losses and we need an honest assessment of both in order to heal and move on.
Good memoirs also encourage us to live healthier lives by reminding us we don’t have to accept rude behavior from people just because we share the same blood or believe them just because they say something is so. There are things we would never put up with when it comes to strangers—so why have so many of us allowed our relatives to tell us how to live our lives? This is part of the authentic truth we must get to the bottom of when writing a memoir.
One author wrote her memoir so authentically that she sent me on my own journey to write a childhood memoir. Her name is Jeanette Walls, and you may have heard of her memoir, “The Glass Castle.”
Jeanette didn’t make herself out to be a saint, she didn’t trash her siblings and she didn’t even assign motives or blame to her parents’ choices. She simply described her own childhood experiences. She gave us a real story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Her story even reveals a character arc where her character grew and changed over time. This is a good read and I couldn’t put it down once I began reading. If you haven’t read it, now is a good time because “The Glass Castle” is coming to theaters in mid-August.
Memoirs are modern day, authentic fairy tales. They tell us true stories about the struggles of real people. No matter how crazy your day job is or how broken your marriage, there is always a story somewhere of someone who had it worse than you who has pulled themselves up from the bottom. Such stories inspire us and give us the courage to live better lives and sometimes they even inspire us to tell our own stories.
If you’re reading a memoir, happy reading!
If you’re writing a memoir, happy writing!