Course: Reading and Writing Autobiography
Instructor: Lucy Marx
“Where I Come From”
For this assignment, I’d like you to explore some aspect of the world in which you grew up, bringing that world alive through the techniques of narrative—your (the narrator’s) voice; setting; character; scene; plot.
We’ll learn a lot about you, if you speak to us in an honest, simple voice close to the voice in which you talk with friends.
You might begin by writing, or telling, about a character or event or family ritual—what always happens at the dinner table, say—or simply some moment that seems especially vivid. Try to develop a scene or two. And let us see the setting in which these scenes take place.
While I can’t tell you what shape your autobiographical essay will take any more than you can at this point, the answers to the following questions should come clear as you go:
Will you write relatively “pure” narrative or will you choose to use your personal experience to reflect more generally and explicitly on some issues that your experience raises in the form of the essay?
- What is the tension that drives the narrative forward?
- How will the piece be organized? Will you link together a series of memories in more summary form or will you focus on a few scenes and try to convey them through as close to an eye-witness account of the specific action and dialogue as you can recreate?
- How much talking to the reader will you do, offering commentary on what happens from your current point of view?
- What will we learn of significance about your experience, and how will this emerge?
As you write, if you get lost, remember to keep coming back to your narrator’s voice and your narrator’s intent—always writing to clarify for yourself and the reader the way things really are or were, and pulling out what’s important and vital to you about the experiences you are describing. At some point, you might try directly freewriting on the questions: “What’s most interesting here? What am I trying to say?” What you write here may not appear at all in your final narrative, but it may help you clarify what you want to focus on and what insight you’re aiming towards.
You should be looking for connections, for relationships between the scenes and characters and commentary, seeing what emerges as you bring these various elements together, weaving them into a whole, abandoning some, and choosing others to expand upon. Let this process guide you in shaping your writing as it evolves towards expressing something true about the world you come from and your experience within it.