Do You Need Action in a Memoir?

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helping people turn memories into memoirs
Do You Need Action in a Memoir? by Denis Ledoux Action in a memoir is essential – even if internalized! Action in a memoir usually happens in the usual place—outside the memoir
narrator. That is easy to grasp: “The boy ran by.”
When you use flashback scenes in which you remember someone and what they
did way back then—these are not interiorized actions, these are memories of actual
What can be less easy to grasp is that action in a memoir can be internal to the
character, happening in the character’s mind.
“Interiorized action” is action that exists only in the character’s mind. It is often
used for anticipation, suspense, or foreshadowing. You can create scenes in which you
fantasize what something might be like—you can play scenarios out. These are not
flashbacks but interiorized, internalized action. Let me make an example up of an action in
a memoir that is internal.
In this example, I have written about not studying sufficiently as an eighth grader
for an oral report.
An example of an internalized action in a memoir That morning, I awoke with the thought of standing in front of the class, and Mrs. Snodgrass asking me to deliver my oral report. I would stand there next to her desk and look out at my classmates. They would be smiling as if they knew I could not remember a word. I searched every nook and cranny of my mind but could not come up with a word. Mr. Snodgrass, adjusting her butterfly glasses, would say impatiently, ‘We are ready, 95 Gould Road Lisbon Falls, ME 04252
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Describing Character
George,’ and I would have to turn to her. ‘Mrs. Snodgrass,’ I would say, ‘I can’t remember a word.’ The boys and girls would laugh. Mrs. Snodgrass would say dismissively, ‘George, I can’t give you a passing grade. The worst part is I’ll have you again in the eighth grade next year.’ In this example, the whole classroom scene is
not happening anywhere but in the mind of the
character. It never happened in real life. It is an
expression of anxiety (– perhaps well-merited anxiety!)
Instead of saying, “I was worried that the lack of study
would catch up with me, the author has presented an
imagined scene with an action. This sort of interiorized
action can be used frequently in a memoir. It is
important not to make memories up, however, but it is
entirely possible that the writer could remember having
had the very fantasy I create above. Forty years later,
the author may fill the action in a memoir out a bit but
the reader will probably forgive him.
We all remember imaginary scenes where our worst fantasies were played out.
These reveal character. It is effective to show these in action in a memoir rather than in
vague words: “I was worried.”
Share at The Memoir Network Forum:
What has your use of interiorized, internalized action in a memoir been like?
95 Gould Road Lisbon Falls, ME 04252
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