"...everything in life is writable...if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."..... Sylvia Plath

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Should we, as writer's, ever experiment with narrative form?

I actually started writing my memoir a couple of years ago without even realizing it. I joined a writers site and began posting as often as I could, which was just about every day. I wrote articles on every topic I could think of. I even wrote poems...a whole slew of them. I got hooked on writing short pieces. I wrote about Johnny Depp, how to plant and take care of an herb garden, and how to make Christmas cookies. I had the attitude there was no topic I couldn't write about. I was encouraged by all the good feedback I got from my readers.

Then I started writing about things that were closer to me;  my interest and expertize in music, my work as a teacher and as an Innkeeper, and closest of all, my family. I wrote about my mother and how she translated everything in life into something positive. I wrote about my father who was a jazz musician. And I wrote about my grandmother, who was the rock of the family. The only family I didn't write about were my daughters. They both told me they were off limits.

When I wrote my first post about my bed and breakfast, I received a lot of feedback...all positive. Readers said they wanted more. By this time, I was more relaxed in my writing and felt extremely comfortable writing first person narratives and publishing them on-line. So I continued writing about my experiences in the bed and breakfast and started grouping them under the title, Tales From an Innkeeper's Crypt. Pretty soon I had quite a following just waiting for new tales. After a while they started encouraging me to make a collection of all my stories.

I thought about it. And thought about it. I wasn't real sure I was up to it, but one day, I decided I would write a memoir of the seventeen years I'd been an Innkeeper, rewriting the basic stories I already had and adding more.  I just wrote and wrote, not paying much attention to the format. I finally ended up with around fifteen chapters, in no particular order.

I've been working on my stories for over a year and although they are coming together individually, I'm still not sure how to group them. Right now they are not grouped chronologically and I think they'll stay that way. Although most of the stories have a story arc, some do not. And I'm not sure I want to change that. The all-over narrative form does not seem to meet the traditional model. But I'm wondering if I should, as the title of this post suggests, experiment with the form.Would you?

if you enjoyed this post, feel free to leave a comment


  1. I liked reading about how your writing progressed until you had written a book. My instinct is that if it feels right, you definitely should experiment with the narrative form. Many great writers have done so. And look at Chekhov. Not all of his stories follow a traditional arc. Some of them are just "This is what happened. Make of it what you will." Yet they somehow work.

  2. Carol: Thanks so much for your comment and support. It's very much appreciated. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, as I did reading your response. Since this is my first book and I haven't gotten any feedback from agents yet, I'm still a little unsure as to whether I'm going down the right path or just wasting my time.

  3. I would think each story is its own story and can have its own style. My editor would probably go "crazy" but I say do what feels right to you, after all they are your stories.

  4. Doreen, Thanks for the encouraging comment. I tend to agree with you on this, but if I want to get published I may have to acquiesce to an editor.

  5. Hi Nancy. I'm glad I found your blog. I will be following your posts.

  6. I understand the challenge of breaking rules. I always try to follow my intuition on this. Thanks for sharing the story of your writing journey.

  7. Thanks, Julia for the comment. I think you're right about following one's intuition. I feel like I should just go with what I have even though it is not in a strict traditional form.

  8. I enjoyed your writing and I think you certainly have a deep well of life experiences to draw inspiration from. Hope you finish the book!

    Interestingly, I'm currently reading two books that both employ loose memory episodes -- Tolstoy's Childhood and Le Thi Diem Thuy's The Gangster We Are All Looking For. Tolstoy is a great writer of small details, but for something refreshing, I highly recommend the latter (honestly, I enjoyed it more too). The slim volume has only five chapters that covers a long period with some missing years in between, yet the "arc" is beautifully held in place by the writer's unique poetic voice and its use of recurring visual and literary motifs.

    I guess you can arrange the stories in any way you like, but I feel there's got to be a "centre", even if it were something really abstract, or something really tiny but important. That centre could well be you, your voice, your inn, or the childhood memory that comes to your mind when the bell rings as a guest enters or leaves.

    I wish I can write as well and as much as you. Looking forward to more!

  9. @Chao: Thank you so much for the wonderful comments...very helpful. I plan on taking a look at Le Thi Diem Thuy's book. If it's on Kindle, I may buy it right away. I agree with your suggestion about needing a "center" for my book. I'm looking for one right now, while I'm doing my final major re-write.