Your Life As Story: Discovering the "New Autobiography" and Writing Memoir As Literature

Overview

Blending literary scholarship with practical coaching on how to craft short or long life narratives, Rainer traces the history of autobiography from Egyptian inscriptions through its recent evolution on the bestseller lists. Aided by examples from such writers as Maya Angelou, Russell Baker, Richard Rodriguez, Maxine Hong Kingston, Mikal Gilmore, and Carolyn See, among others, Rainer demonstrates how to write character portraits, how to remember what you thought you had forgotten, how to unify a story with ...
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Overview

Blending literary scholarship with practical coaching on how to craft short or long life narratives, Rainer traces the history of autobiography from Egyptian inscriptions through its recent evolution on the bestseller lists. Aided by examples from such writers as Maya Angelou, Russell Baker, Richard Rodriguez, Maxine Hong Kingston, Mikal Gilmore, and Carolyn See, among others, Rainer demonstrates how to write character portraits, how to remember what you thought you had forgotten, how to unify a story with thematic conflict, how to write scenes with dialogue and employ other fictional devices, how to use humor and perspective, and how to move through time. The author shares her remarkable techniques for finding the essentials of story structure within your life's scattered experiences. She also shows that autobiography need not be a linear, heroic quest, but may be assembled like a quilt, the pattern gradually emerging.

This definitive guide to writing the story only you can tell is offered by the author of The New Diary (75,000 copies sold). Here is an author who practices what she generously teaches--how to write about oneself with courage, perspective and humor. 368 pp. 15,000 print.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Rainer (The New Diary) claims that this is the "most complete and advanced book" on writing autobiography, and yes, she backs it up. While it bypasses the most basic questions of craft-which would-be autobiographers must also master-this book includes a sophisticated mix of analysis, examples and exercises. The "New Autobiography," according to Rainer, borrows the techniques and structure of the novel-though purists may blanch at her acceptance of nonliteral truth and her inclusion of Pam Houston and other autobiographical fictioneers. Still, Rainer seems to know storytelling, and she analyzes the varieties and elements of story structure as well as showing how to vary chronology. She suggests that the search for an individual voice must precede any attempt to speak for a larger group. Rainer offers good suggestions on casting characters in a life story, sorting episodes into themes and writing realistic dialogue. She includes examples from classes she teaches in Southern California, advising other teachers that such work must be critiqued with great sensitivity. Finally, she provides sensible advice about the publishing world and how to form a memoir group. For those willing to do the work, Rainer is an excellent guide. (Apr.)
Library Journal
In The New Diary, written 20 years ago, Rainer held that the diary as a literary genre is "a tool for personal growth and for realizing creative potential." This, her latest effort, purports to be a hands-on guide to the craft of autobiographical writing, but it is more like a self-help guide to finding peace and self-fulfillment. Rainer defines the new autobiography as "the application of story structure to...life experiences to give them meaning. It's reading your life as if it were a dream." Her guide is weak on story structure, and only in the final two chapters and appendixes does she address the mechanics of editing and submission (including Internet publishing). For Rainer, the motivations of the writer supersede the quality of the writing and the expectations of the intended audience. Not recommended for serious writing collections, though libraries with writing groups may want to consider because of the support and encouragement offered to the novice.Denise S. Sticha, Seton Hill Coll., Greensburg, Pa.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780874778618
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/14/1997
  • Pages: 353
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Table of Contents

1 The Story Only You Can Tell 1
2 The Evolution of a New Autobiography 20
3 What Is a Story? 37
4 A Story Depends Upon How You Slice It 47
5 The Nine Essential Elements of Story Structure 65
6 Genres of the Self 83
7 Tricks Memory Plays on You and Tricks You Can Play on It 100
8 Finding Your Voice 123
9 Portraying Yourself: You Are Your Hero 140
10 Portraying Others: Casting Your Story from Life 152
11 Truth in Autobiographic Writing 173
12 How to Write What You Dare Not Say 184
13 Dealing with Your Dark Side 192
14 Writing the Body 202
15 Theme: String for Your Pearls 212
16 Scenepearls 231
17 Anatomy of Scene: Description, Inner Responses, Dialog, and Structure 244
18 Jumping and Leaping through Time 267
19 Humor 289
20 Dressing Up before Going Out 300
21 Emotional, Legal, and Ethical Concerns 306
22 Finishing the Unfinished Story 323
App. 1 Forming or Finding a Memoir Group 327
App. 2 Selling Your Story for Fame and Fortune and Other Good Alternatives 329
Bibliography of Autobiographic Works and Critical Works on Memoir Cited in the Text 337
Index 345
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