As I continue along my journey of applying Kurt Vonnegut’s rules for short story writing to writing memoirs, I’m a little confounded by number five:
Rule 5: Start as close to the end as possible.
Perhaps here is where a memoir and a short story part company. When you’re relating your entire life story, shouldn’t you start with your birth? Look at it another way. Your life really is a collection of stories—short stories, if you will. Each episode contains its own set of background facts and paths leading up to the action. The lesson from this rule is to lay out the information the reader needs without indulging yourself by providing more than that.
Think of the way you might tell a friend about something that once happened to you. The story is compelling, or you wouldn’t be talking about it. But the set-up—frequently that’s a lot less interesting. You begin telling your pal the whole “back story??? and, the further you proceed, the more restless your friend becomes until finally blurting out, “Just get to the point!??? Keep that impatience in mind as you take your readers along your life’s tale. By building story upon story, much of the background information will present itself. Start as close to the end of each episode as possible, and you’ll have a stronger autobiography than if you ramble around the middle.