Memoir – Life as Fairy Tale

Once Upon a Time

A few years ago, I began working on my autobiography. Last year, during the November NaNoWriMo (National  Novel Writing Month) I added another 50,000 words. Okay, I can feel my Nanowrimo friends cringing – I know that makes me a “Nano Rebel” because an autobiography is not a novel – but 50,000 words are…well, 50,000 words!

My autobiography was approaching a sizable mass, but it read more like a chronology of my life – snore. In an effort to learn how best to tell my story, I read Tristine Rainer’s book, Your Life as Story – Discovering the New Autobiography and Writing Memoir as Literature.  I was intrigued by the idea of writing a memoir as literature – a memoir that reads like a novel. 

Several writing exercises and prompts are outlined in Rainer’s book, but for me, the most revealing was the challenge to write your life story as a fairy tale. She challenges her reader to engage imagination with memory. She references Joseph Campbell’s, The Power of Myth, in his words,

“This I believe is the great Western truth: that each of us is a completely unique creature and that, if we are ever to give a gift to the world, it will have to come out of our own experience and the fulfillment of our own potentialities, not someone else’s.”

The fairy tale challenge rules limit the exercise to two pages – good, I can do that, I thought. The purpose of the exercise is to help reveal the themes within your life. Your choice in fairy tale genre is the first big thematic hint. I chose Cinderella – don’t laugh! My choice in the fairy tale was vindicated when the author confessed to choosing Cinderella too. But your story need not be limited to fairy tales of the past – make up your own if you want.

I am sharing my fairy tale below for those who may be interested. The revelations in my fairy tale are now the themes woven throughout my memoir. My autobiography outline was a great source of information, but my memoir, if done well, will be a work of literature.  Read more