What’s the best way to write about yourself?
Among the decisions you’ll make when you start telling your own story is whether to write in first person or third person. You may think first person – referring to yourself as “I” and “me” – is the natural way to write a memoir. After all, it is all about you. But, in truth, there are no hard-and-fast rules. Well, there is one: Never switch in the middle of the story. That having been said, here are some things to consider:
Your intended readers: Who are your stories speaking to? If it’s family members, writing in first person allows future generations to get to know you through your voice. In this case, the goal should be to naturally express your personality in your writing. This can be more difficult than you think. That’s because most of us have been trained to write more formally than we speak. So be sure to read your memoir aloud and edit until it really sounds like you.
Distance vs. intimacy: There might be aspects of your past that feel more comfortable observed through binoculars than a microscope. Some people deal with difficult or embarrassing times by skipping over them. But usually those are the most memorable stories, and the ones that generate humor and empathy. Instead of suppressing a story, try telling it in the third person – as if you’re one of the characters. This could give you enough distance to face the truth.
Your creative expression: It’s really up to you whether you write your memoir in first or third person. Why not try both? As I’ve written previously, I’m a fan of the anthology approach. Tell one story at a time. Each story can stand on its own. This allows you to experiment with different storytelling techniques.
Naming names: Writing in third person, you can consider changing the names of the characters to, as they say, “protect the innocent.” I’ve written a few true-life accounts in third person, always using the real name for the main character. However, I have changed or invented names for supporting roles. Often this is when a name has been forgotten and I don’t want to destroy the flow of the narrative by saying “that guy” and “the other guy.”
Whatever point-of-view you choose, it should be what feels most comfortable to you. Writing your memoir is the ultimate in self-expression. The process should be enjoyable, and the result should please you most of all.
Contact me if you’d like help writing your story.
Copyright Liz Behlke 2018