Plotting Beyond Fiction

Even if you’re not a fiction writer, being able to write a compelling narrative is a useful skill to ensure that you’re reaching your audience.

Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew's book Swinging on the Garden GateElizabeth Jarrett Andrew, author of Swinging on the Garden Gate: A Spiritual Memoir and a writing coach, explores the importance of telling a good story when it comes to writing memoir.

She credits Janet Burroway’s book Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Fiction for giving her a new way to explain the difference between a record of events and a memoir. While Burroway addresses the significance of plot in fiction, Jarrett Andrew underlines why memoir writers must go beyond describing events in chronological order. She argues that a memoirist needs to address the issue of causality and the relationships between person and circumstance.

Jarrett Andrew gives examples of the questions a memoir writer should ask about the events she is writing about:

“What changed?  Why?  How?  When?  What’s the cause?  What’s the effect?  Who was I before / during / after this event?  What was my relationship to these events?  What is it today?”

Answering these questions helps the writer dig into a narrative and pull out the compelling elements—the causes and effects, the motivations behind a person’s actions, the changes that have occurred because of an event or action. These are the core aspects of plot, which most of us associate with fiction. But in her post Jarrett Andrew shows how plot anchors story within a memoir.

A memoir moves beyond a record of events and speaks to readers about what made those events important, how they changed the writer, and what larger message they offer beyond the writer’s own life. For good examples of memoirs that embody this idea, see Running on a Mind Rewired: A Memoir and Under the Bridge Backwards: My Marriage, My Family, and Alzheimer’s, both by independent authors who are also Trio clients.

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