Last week my essay “Is My Story Dramatic Enough?” was published in the Washington Independent Review of Books. Its foundation was laid one evening when one of my students stopped me in the hallway after our memoir class and said, “All these stories are so dramatic! Where is the drama in mine? It’s just about a cat!” Granted, we had just workshopped manuscripts about a sister’s suicide, a patient’s death, and a mother’s mental illness. How could she compete with that when her drama “only” involved the anguish of her cat gone missing?
Interestingly, after the WIRoB tweeted the article and a Twitter stream ensued, I was connected to Peter Trachtenberg, who happens to have written a memoir, Another Insane Devotion, about a missing cat. Purportedly it is about much more, but I haven’t read it (yet), so I can’t say anything about it; however, I love the way these kind of connections can happen. And of course I love that he has proven the very point of my essay: that a missing cat can very well be the inciting incident for a memoir if certain criteria are met. So read about these criteria in my (rather short) article and let me know what you think. I always love to hear your thoughts!
Transformative! That's the key word. I read your full essay, too and it transformed my thinking on memoir. Drama can be disturbing if it lacks a narrative transformation. Kind of like bashing the reader over the head without offering ice in return.
Charli, thank you. I'm glad you liked my essay. Yes, even high drama needs to have a point to it, otherwise, why bother?
You make great points!
I loved the article (and of course know the backstory). But great points to keep in mind as always. Those of us writing about tragedy struggle not to overwhelm the reader with drama. This is a great reminder to keep focused on transformation. The hard part is how to describe personal transformation without sounding trite or preachy. Practice practice practice, I guess.
Steph, you're totally right: It's damn hard to convey transformation without sounding trite. With that, I'd say the key is understatement and showing.