‘Keep the drama on the page,’ says Julia Cameron, author of The Artists Way. She means make your work dramatic, not your life.
In drafts of my writing I see I have a series of themes and anecdotes, but not so much the stuff of drama.
Take a recent story about my working on Dad’s poultry farm. As a teenager in the sixties I worked with him over a period of ten Sundays to raise money for the school ‘Missions’. I hated it.
How do I turn this feeling into a scene? I was fifteen and in love with the Beatles. I wanted to dance to ‘She Loves You’, kidnap the ‘mop top’ with my friends on their visit to Melbourne, and possibly marry Paul. (My taste has changed since then.) The scene grows out of what I want – versus what my father wants. I wanted fun and freedom, he wanted help with his work.
There is the protagonist (me), versus the antagonist (my father). In memoir, of course, the roles are often swapped. Something was standing in the way of what the protagonist wanted – rightly or wrongly. My father was not accommodating my self-indulgent, teenage needs. And why should he?
Memoir features what the “I” wants, but she is not necessarily righteous. She is simply the story’s narrator. Getting or not getting what she wants creates the tension, thereby creating a scene.
Did I get what I wanted? Only after writing about it now.