WRITING MEMOIR CAN BE A LONELY ENDEAVOR. Day after day, for months — maybe years — you dig through your memories for details of events that fit into the theme of your story. You search through photo albums, personal journal entries (if you’re lucky to have them), google newspaper archives, and bring up satellite images of the home you grew up in. But, mostly, your version of events is limited to the quirks of your own memory.
Interviewing other people who were involved, or experts in a related field, can add incredible depth to your memoir.
Interviews don’t have to be formal, sit-down events. They can be as simple as reminiscing with your brother. “Hey Joe, do you remember that time when we were kids and we ran away together?” And then, once your brother (or friend or other relative) is engaged, ask a simple open-ended question: “What do you remember about that day?”
You can learn a lot by listening to others’ perceptions of an event. If their version doesn’t agree with yours, that doesn’t mean yours is wrong. Varied perceptions are normal. If there’s a big difference in how you and your interviewee remember events, that difference can provide food for thought and reflection. Why DID you remember it the way you did, and how has your memory of the way it happened influenced your worldview and subsequent decision-making?Interviewing people who were present during an event can add incredible depth to your memoir. Click To Tweet
Take notes and, if possible, record the conversation. (You’ll need to let the person know you’re recording and why. And don’t worry — most people forget about the recording once they start talking.)
Follow up with additional questions to tease out more details. “Do you remember what Mom said when we got back?” Or, “I was eight and you were ten, right?” Follow-up questions can provide confirmation for your own memories as well as valuable details you may be able to include in your scenes.
If the theme of your memoir would benefit from an expert’s view — for example, your story is about child abuse or a family member’s addiction — in addition to researching statistics in these fields, interview a family therapist or other expert who could give you a personal view of the issue and deepen your understanding of how it affected you.
How to start interviewing
So . . . who are you going to interview first?