Karen Jordan, Uncategorized

Scene, Summary, and Musing in Memoir Writing

Writing a memoir with my daughter Tara

The memoirist need not necessarily know what she thinks about her subject but she must be trying to find out; she may never arrive at a definitive verdict, but she must be willing to share her intellectual and emotional quest for answers. (Judith Barrington)

I’m in the middle of writing a memoir with my daughter Tara. So, I needed a little refresher course on this subject. So, I thought I’d just list a few things I noted on my own memoir checklist.

Scene, Summary, and Musing. Musing takes a vital role in the memoir. But scene and summary provide two useful ways to move through the narrative.

Judith Barrington describes the memoir’s characteristics of scene and summary in cinematic terms.

I’ve often used photographic terms to describe the editing process. For instance, check out some of my web editing tips here.


Summary. Here the writer focuses on the panoramic view. This may include numerous details, but examines the person, place, or event from a distance.

For this viewpoint, I imagine myself taking a photo of a sunset or sunrise over a lake with my long-distance camera lens.


Scene. For this macroscopic view, you zoom in for a closer look at your story and focus on a particular point of view or incident. Consider using some dialogue to illustrate your scene or another descriptive device to describe an intimate detail of that moment.

In photography, I change my lens and focus for a closer view of a child or the reflection over the lake.


Musing. I visualize this characteristic of a memoir as the microscopic view, zooming in on the writer’s intimate feelings and thoughts. The reflective voice of the writer expresses her feelings and thoughts at the time of the event. She might choose to express her current understanding or the wisdom that she gleaned from her personal experience.

For instance, I love to capture the memories by the lake close to my home–the awesome sunrises and the poignant moments with my grandkids. It reminds me to record the stories that matter most to me as a gift for the next generation.

Storytelling. In memoir, the writer tells a true story from her life, using her best creative nonfiction skills. As you examine your memoir for revisions, focus on your areas of strength and weakness. Do you tend to focus on summarizing your story rather than zooming in on some important scenes? Have you reflected on what a certain person or event means to you or what you’ve learned from this experience?

I challenge you to work on the weaker elements of your memoir. Your story will become stronger and even more meaningful, as you examine your scene, summary, and musing.


What tips can you offer about memoir writing?

Photo/TaraRossKaren Jordan encourages others to “tell the stories that matter most.” Find links to her writing workshops, speaking topics, and other online connections www.karenjordan.net.

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