Monday, June 16, 2014

Writing Prompt: Organization

There are many ways to organize your manuscript (poems, chapters, essays, etc.) that it can be overwhelming. Here's an exercise I offer in my memoir writing workshop at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

Memoir Manuscript Organization:

You've started writing a number of scenes that don't immediately fit together. How do you order and connect these scenes? You might choose to order them chronologically, chronologically with flashbacks, character, place or theme or something else.

Start by writing a list of 8 - 10 main "things" in your memoir. These "things" (such a bland word, but you are meant to define it for yourself) can be any characteristics that you already have in mind: chapter titles, main characters, main events, central research or other related ideas. List each item on a separate index card.

Spread out the index cards in front of you and move them around to see what your options are.

Answer the following questions in writing:
Write a short paragraph that summarizes the list.
This leads you to the ultimate question: What is the coherent, unifying idea that connects each item? This is your thesis. Can you write it in a single sentence?

Now you know how these items connect. The next goal is to determine how they can be best presented and in what order.

Items put next to each other change based on their proximity and relationship to something else. For example, placing a plastic drinking cup next to a gas can might suddenly make the cup look cleaner and smaller.

With that in mind, move your index cards around on the table. Put them in different orders and see how the relationship between each item - and the item on its sown - changes based on its location.

Write a short paragraph that explains the (or "an") order that you might follow.

Congratulations! You now have a potential, skeleton outline for your memoir. Remember to keep your outline updated as you write since writing is a form of learning and you'll better understand your purpose (thesis) as you continue to write and better understand your project.


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