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Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner

From Memoirist to Novelist—A Discussion about Two Genres

July 28, 2023
11 AM PDT | 12 PM MDT | 1 PM CDT | 2 PM EDT

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While writing my recently published novel, The Forger of Marseille, I talked often with my colleague and co-teacher Brooke Warner about how helpful the skills I know from memoir were to my novel writing. Many writers contemplate questions of the intersection between fiction and memoir–in what ways is it similar and how is it different? I will always be a memoirist, and a fan and advocate of memoir. Still, I wanted to explore the challenge of writing fiction. As a publisher, Brooke is familiar with both memoir and fiction. We thought we’d address the idea that many of you memoir writers might be thinking about: writing fiction after you finish your memoir.

Many writers venture into writing fiction to embrace the challenge of learning new skills and embrace the idea of using their imagination to make things up. To enjoy the freedom of discovering new characters, voice, and plot. Research for a new novel can be an amazing experience. The good news is that the skills you develop to write a memoir are the same skills you need to write fiction—how to create story and use scenes to create a world for the reader to enter and experience with all their senses.

Memoir writers often tell me they think about writing their memoir as fiction because they’re afraid of family fallout. But the truth is, no matter how you present your story, people may react. For most of you, writing your truth the way you lived it is a way to come to terms with the past, and you want to stand by that. After you write your memoir, which we all can agree is a deeply emotional experience, you might want to choose other family stories and explore them in fiction. Or you may want to shift into a new direction of fiction as I did and strike out for new shores. I know memoir writers who’ve written mysteries, science fiction, and literary fiction.

I’d explored my family history deeply in two memoirs, and I wanted to venture, with some trepidation, into fiction. I wanted to satisfy my curiosity about an era that fascinated me—World War II and specifically 1940 France. Having stayed close to my own lived experience for so long in writing two memoirs, I was eager to take on the challenge to be wildly creative in my writing. For a while, I wrestled with the question: how do I decide what to make up? What are the principles of fiction that I need to learn? Will I be able to use my memoir writing skills to create a new genre? The answer was a resounding yes!

Both genres rely upon the power of story to create a powerful emotional experience for the reader.

In this discussion with Brooke, we’ll explore the elements common to both memoir and fiction, including:

  • The idea that creating a powerful story is the north star of all writing, memoir or fiction.
  • The fact that scenes are the building blocks of good stories, no matter the genre.
  • The importance of developing characters that are real on the page, a core skill that makes the reader care.
  • It’s the engine that drives through the arc of every story.
  • The reason we read—and write: we Identify with the protagonist and the inner world of the characters and experience it as if we’re there.

My good news: My novel The Forger of Marseille has been published by She Writes Press and has won a silver medal through the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. If you’d like to know more about the book and the research, please visit: http://lindajoymyersauthor.com.

Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Write On, Sisters!, Green-Light Your Book, What’s Your Book?, and three books on memoir, including How to Sell Your Memoir, and two books co-authored with Linda Joy Myers: Breaking Ground on Your Memoir and The Magic of Memoir. She is committed to helping writers become creative entrepreneurs and thought leaders, a message conveyed in her TEDx talk, “Green-Light Revolution.” Together with Linda Joy Myers, she teaches memoir intensives here and at WriteYourMemoirinSixMonths.com. 

Linda Joy Myers, founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers, is the author of award winning memoirs Don’t Call Me Mother and Song of the Plains, and two books on craft—The Power of Memoir, & Journey of Memoir. She co-authored Breaking Ground on Your Memoir and Magic of Memoir & co-teaches Write Your Memoir in Six Months with Brooke Warner. A memoir coach for 30 years, she helps memoir writers find their voice and get their story into the world. Linda recently ventured into novel writing land, and her first novel, The Forger of Marseille, a WWII historical fiction novel, is published by She Writes Press and launches on July 11, 2023.

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