Writing from Life
Writing yourself as a character
It can take time to get to know your own character on the page. Self-consciousness or uncertainty can get in the way of development of the 'I' character, or a desire to paint ourselves in a particular way because we've decided already what the story is. By thinking of ourselves as a passive or 'neutral' character or, for example, always in the role of victim or hero, we can miss opportunities to develop a more nuanced character and ask complex questions about our lives and relationships.
The essay Mistakes Were Made in BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE by Charles Baxter (Graywolf Press) is about autobiographical fiction but applies well to memoir and is interesting on this point.
Exercise in the session: To take a situation and write yourself in the third person, perhaps through the eyes of someone else in the scene.
Write scenes that show you interacting with different people from your life and see how differently you behave with them. These could be fictional, for example imagine going to visit an old teacher from your school days, one who intimidated you at the time. Create a variety of scenes showing yourself with people of different generations and from different situations.
Look at scenes you have already written and the way you have written yourself. How do you think the reader will see you? What details would you like to add to make yourself better understood?
What changes, developments or shifts do you want to show in your character over the course of events and how will you do this?
Make up your own exercise to show the richness of your interior world while your character is going about some practical business.
In your notebook, jot down sensory details you notice as you go about your day and how you react to these (eg a colour catching your eye and reminding you of something else, background music you find yourself irritated by or singing along to). An awareness of these details and how you absorb them, will help in developing your voice, the particular quality in your prose that tells us this could only have been written by you.