Point of Entry for Your Story
One of the big things you need to decide when you're writing a memoir is what's your point of view? You could say that it's obvious, my point of view is me. I'm writing a memoir. The one thing we don't have to consider, and I do for a novel, one of the first things I always ask myself when I'm writing a novel is who's my character who is telling this story. Am I writing in the first person, am I describing through the point, through the eyes of one particular character? It's always through my eyes. But there is still a big point of view question. And the big point of view question for memoir is yes it's me, but me when? Is it me, age looking back on my life and reminiscing? Is it me, at age writing in the present tense of what it was like to be that person at age 12? There's no one right answer. There's the right answer for you with this particular story. And I will tell you what I chose for At Home in the World for a point of view and I think it was a good choice. I wrote in the pre...
sent tense. I wrote as if I were the person going through those events at that moment. So, I'll say I'll just pick up At Home in the World and I'll turn it to a, "Until now," this is a random page "Until now, the only places I've ever been "are Manchester, New Hampshire "for our annual back to school shopping trip, "Ogunquit, Maine two times this summer to the ocean, "Boston to the ballet or the opera with my mother, "and Winnipeg, Canada to visit my mother's parents "for six weeks every summer." Okay, not an earth shaking sentence but you notice present tense. And I have now been to many other places than that. That was me age 12. And I want to inhabit me age 12. But I grow older during this, so now I am at college and I say, "My days now revolve around trips to the post office "to pick up my letters from J.D. Salinger." And I'm going to turn to much further along. This book is not just about that period in my life. "My father announces that he's moving to British Columbia." That's 30 years later but it's present tense. Okay, so decide your point of view and every choice that you make will have some advantages and some disadvantages. The advantages in my choosing the present tense were that I made it very I wanted you to feel what it was like to be me at that moment. Disadvantage, and this is one that you must honor, I did not get to say, later I would learn that. Or, I took this job, I would find out that it was a very bad idea to take this job. I never should have done it. I am just, I was in possession only of the amount of information that I at that age had. In your memoir, you uncover, you reveal the facts as they were revealed to you. If you never knew until you were until 40 years into your marriage, I am so not talking about Larry here, that your wife secretly was working for the CIA all that time. You do not say, when you're talking about your wife turned out she worked for the CIA. You give me the scene where Joe, not Larry finds out that his wife has been working for the CIA all those years. The world is revealed to the reader as the world was revealed to you. Point of entry. Where do you begin? And I'm a big fan of the small scene. But it's not a random small scene. It is a small scene that defines for us the big themes. And I want you to think about how it works in a movie. A movie never begins with somebody coming out and saying this movie is about. We get a character somewhere. Example that comes most readily to mind, The Graduate. And I use this one because it's a movie that most of us know. Do you remember how The Graduate begins? First scene, Dustin Hoffman landing at LAX. A very young Dustin Hoffman. We see him in profile on that moving sidewalk carrying his baggage, little bit of metaphor there although I don't know if Mike Nichols intended it. Along this moving sidewalk, ding, ding, ding, ding. And what, he, it is the portrait of a young man whose whole life is all planned out for him. He's just graduated from college, he's gonna get a job in plastics, he's gonna marry the great fiance. Everything is all worked out for him. And we know seeing that, that everything is about to explode. First, first line of At Home in the World, "The house where I grew up in Durham, New Hampshire "is the only one on the street "with a fence surrounding it." Now I could have given you any number of physical details about that house. It was the only one that had a yellow door. It had a brick walkway. It had shutters. None of those details would speak to the theme that I want to suggest to you from the get-go, as Mike Nichols wanted to suggest who that character of Dustin Hoffman was before he changed. Before story happened, before his arc. I chose the fence because that's who we were. We were a family in isolation. We were not part of the world. We were our own little world. What's the book called? At Home in the World. What's my journey? From being part of that very tight little family that was just us, that didn't belong to any bigger group, and that felt very isolated. And very filled with secrets and shame, to being a person out in the world who wherever she is, she's comfortable. Which kind of is where I got to be. Because I so got rid of that shame. I just decided, hey I don't want to live that way anymore. It's a little more complicated than that. And a lot of people said yeah, you should live that way. Go back to that old place. (laughter) But that's my journey and so the first line of my book reflects the journey that I wanted to make. That I wanted you to make with me.