A Memoir Writing Prompt: Develop Your Narrator

Dear writing sisters,

One of my quirky gifts is a knack for spotting potential writing prompts, especially when I’m reading a memoir. Prompts jump out at me. And when they do, I flag the page with a Post-It note and jot a craft category in the margin: develop your narrator, create empathy for your antagonist, practice your reflective voice, use a detail to slant an emotional truth. Later, when I’m developing a writing workshop or mentoring a client, a flagged passage or scene will flutter to mind. I’ll pull that memoir off the shelf and, voila, a writing prompt.

While preparing my home for Thanksgiving—there will be seventeen of us gathered here—I’ve been thinking about family. And food. And the intersection of family and food. And how the ways in which we sit around a dinner table (or not) reveals much about who we are and what shaped us into who we have become.

I was vacuuming underneath the bed in the upstairs front room when it occurred to me that I’d like to share a writing prompt with you as a token of my gratitude for your presence in this community. No sooner did I ask myself, What would be a good prompt to share in honor of Thanksgiving to express my gratitude? than a passage from Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story fluttered to mind. It’s been, oh, ten years or more since I first read Knapp’s memoir and jotted “family dinner” and “family dynamics as context for narrator’s character” in the margin of page 39.

It’s not a Thanksgiving scene. But it is a passage in which Knapp reflects upon the family dinner table of her childhood to reveal the innerworkings of her family—their patterns and behaviors and habits; in a word, their flaws—which she establishes early in the book so that later, as she begins to drink her way to alcoholism, we’ll have an understanding of her narrator’s internal obstacles—where she comes from, what makes her tick.

As a token of my gratitude for your presence in this community, I offer you this video writing prompt to help you develop your narrator within the context of the family dynamics that shaped you. May it bring your narrator, with her beautiful complexities, to life on the page.

With love and gratitude,

Marilyn

P.S.  Want to hang out with a warm and supportive group of writing sisters? Writing Women’s Lives Academy hosts a free private Facebook Group called the Writing Out Loud Sisterhood. Come join us here!