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Life & Creativity Coaching

THOUGHTS ON REVISION: For Writers of Memoir, Personal Essay, and Literary Journalism

March 25, 2011


What is the story you want to tell? What is it really?

Opening: Does the opening strike a key note, set a course, make a promise to the reader, reveal something at stake, suggest a central question?

Structure and Organization, or Plot: Does the work have a sense of beginning, middle, and end?

Voice: Is there a distinguishing sensibility behind the work?

Tone: humorous, ironic, yearning, light…

Point of View: Have you employed the right point of view for telling this particular story?

Characterization: How multi-faceted are the people you depict? Have you used particular, specific details to bring them alive?

Physical Description: What do the people you are writing about look like? Pick one or two specific details.

Use of Dialogue and Quotes: Have you used dialogue to bring your characters alive, to emphasize theme, or move the piece along?

Language: use of concrete detail, sensory images, quality of word choice, use of figurative language. Do the details contribute to overall intent and mood of the piece?

Balance of Scene, Summary, and Musing: Do you provide an effective mix of narrative, exposition, and scene?

Sense of Place and Time: Do you give a vivid sense of place, culture, and era?

Use of verb tense: Make sure your tenses line up

Interpretation of the material: Do you give the right amount of attention to telling moments?

Use of authorial observation and interpretation: comment, rumination, reflection, musing

Use of Symbolism

Psychological and Social Insight: Have you brought to bear all the wisdom you can?

Use of Literary Allusions: Did you call on the thoughts of other writers or thinkers where they might be useful?

What does a reader come away with?

If you are writing memoir or personal essay, what does the piece offer beyond memories or reflections? Participant observational material? A sense of history? Information about a process or a place? Social analysis or commentary? Does a reader learn, or gain information by reading the work? Or is the main draw the story itself, or a poetic quality, or and interesting, quirky voice?

Reader’s emotional response: Is the piece of writing emotionally satisfying? Intellectually stimulating? Did you care about the narrator or the people described? Could you put it down?

Selected Works

A story of growing up in the world of espionage
"A poignant chronicle of the diaspora of the heart--and the heart's quest and longing for that universal place called home." Wall Street Journal
Opinion/Cultural Commentary
In Britain or France my aging mother would have gotten better health care.
An exploration of Argentina’s past tyrannies, and my own
Literary Journalism
"...One of the most compelling, knowledgeable, and graceful books about the French soul that has ever been written by an American." -Richard Goodman, author of French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France
"The stories remain...etched in the reader's mind, etched as if by the harsh wind of Patagonia itself. Extraordinarily fine writing." -St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"An eloquent essay." -New York Times