Katrina Stonoff

Finding the Story

Gotta tell you about a conversation I had with Mars yesterday — and the epiphany it gave me.

stonoff hunterI’ve been kinda working on a memoir about my relationship with my father …

Actually my focus is split because I’m also doing the world-building and character development for a futuristic novel that caught my attention when I started wondering what would happen if the United States continued on the divisive path it’s currently on.

The idea came from a late night, alcohol-fueled conversation with one of the brightest minds I know, and I started making notes about it a few years ago. Then I shelved it because my life was too stressful and chaotic to write.

Life’s better now, so I’ve been working on this memoir, but a month or so ago, I ran across my notes for the new novel, and it gave me goosebumps. It was disturbingly prescient, right down to the plague that isolated individuals and changed society permanently.

But I digress. Back to my conversation with my husband …

I’ve been capturing some great stories from my childhood (Dad was a Paul Bunyan of sorts), but I couldn’t figure out how to structure the story. It spans most of my lifetime, but not all, and it seemed much too broad.

Plus, I couldn’t even decide where to start. The whole project came from a free writing prompt, and that section has a killer first line … but it’s all introspection, and readers prefer scenes with action and tension. So maybe I should open with any one of a number of exciting stories, and then go back in time to fill in.

Last night, I mentioned my quandary to Mars.

“I’ve been thinking about Cheryl Strayed’s memoir,” I told him. “Her relationship with her Mom was a big part of it, and it covered a long span of time. But the memoir was about the PCT.”

“You mean, like a frame?”

“Yeah. What’s my frame? I don’t think I have one.”

He stared at me. “Katrina, your book is about your father dying! He took two or three years to do it.”

“Yeah, but everybody’s father dies. I can’t write a book about something so ordinary.”

“Cheryl Strayed wrote about hiking.”

And just like that, I knew what my story was and how it started. I wrote the first chapter/scene last night.

And whatd’ya know? It has a killer first line.

Categories: Memoir Writing