Skip to content

A Course In Memoir

©2003 by Jack Remick and Robert J Ray

This is a sample taken from a year-long course we taught at the University of Washington Extension. We developed a specialized language for this class–Memoir Moment, Node, Natural Journey–so it takes some getting used to. The goal was to bring some structure to the personal memoir process.

We used rhetorical devices to enrich and enhance writers’ work.  We recommended Robert Harris’s Writing with Clarity and Style, A Guide to Rhetorical Devices for Contemporary Writers. We suggest that all of you who stop here also purchase this book and dig deep into it. You’ll come away a much better writer.

The Language of Memoir, Week Two
Boardwork: Author, Title, # of Pages Completed, Node Title
1. Introduction: Finding figures and modes in Slater’s Node 3, “The Convulsive Stage”, and then packing them into your prose in the Designated Node. Polysyndeton, p 111.

2. Warmup: The Node I’m working on (1-2-3-4 or 5), is built with X# of chunks named (1,2,3…)
Reading in Groups
Choose a Reader
Words of Wisdom
Mini-lecture on the goals of the Language of Memoir: Flexibility, elegance, grace, rhythm, balance. Your role as Guardians of the language
Example: Churchill paragraph. Read it aloud, circle words, talk about it.

3. Prepping for the Rewrite – content analysis, mode search.
The Process:
Writer A reads a passage or paragraph
Feedback from the room
What’s the content: object, inhabitant, ritual, time, place
What’s the mode of presentation: narration, exposition, dialogue, description
Writer B reads a passage or paragraph – same process
Writer C reads a passage or paragraph – same process
If more examples are needed, Writers D and E read – same process

4. Break into Two Groups. J-Group and B-Group.
Writers read passages or paragraphs with muddy contents and uncertain modal identities.
Feedback from the Group and the Group Leader until Writers have labeled with marginal notes, content and modes for 3-5 pages.
• Writers choose 100-200 words to rewrite. Enough for a bite.

  • Circle nouns and verbs. How does it feel?
  • Concrete nouns? Strong verbs?
    • Make lists. Look for rhetorical devices.
    • Get ratios of concrete to abstract nouns/verbs. Share ratios with the group.

5. Two-step rewrite.
Step 1) Sense perception + emotion.
Startline: Choose one of the following, or use one of your own hot ones. Write for 7 minutes using Armored Prose Sentences and Language. Jam in lots of adverbs, use huge Latinate polysyllabic words as well innumerable embedded dependent clauses:
• Looking at the photo of Inhabitant X brought tears to my eyes because….
• Touching my father’s hand made me feel like….
• Hearing my mother’s voice made my hand…
• When I smelled (cigar smoke, perfume, bacon frying, fresh bread baking, old fish, the sea, the pine trees, the urine-soaked sheets), I remembered….
Step 2) Syntactic Flex. Rhetorical figure is polysyndeton. Follow the sense perception + emotion with an LSR (Long Sentence Release–no periods, no commas, just let’er rip). For your startline, pull a sentence or phrase from the middle of the writing on sense perception. LSR for 7-10 minutes. Feel free to introduce more devices.

7. Back to the room for spot reading.

Homework. Week Three focuses on the language that describes your inhabitants. Type up your work from tonight. Bring to class writings about two inhabitants in the Designated Node. Copies for your group.

The Language of Memoir, Week Three, April 15
1) Reading from Last week’s rewrite.
Feedback from the room
What’s the content: object, inhabitant, ritual, time, place
What’s the mode of presentation: narration, exposition, dialogue, description

2. Warmup: Inhabitant X always liked to (fill in with Ritual—barter, play games, drive, drink, dress, shave, cook, shoot guns, sharpen knives, shop…) 10 minutes.
Reading in Groups
Choose a Reader

Mini-lecture on rhythm and flexibility in the Language of Memoir: Flexibility, elegance, grace, rhythm, balance. Continued emphasis on your role as Guardians of the language

Example: Churchill paragraph. Read it aloud, link up words, talk about it. Rhythm. Flex.

3. Break into Two Groups. J-Group and B-Group.
Writers read inhabitant passages you brought.
• Count the sentences.
• Total words in one paragraph.
• Divide # of sentences into total word count.
• Average length of sentence is…… words.
• Longest sentence length is…… words.
• Shortest sentence length is…… words.
• Look for rituals and syntactic flex in the writing.

4. Four-step rewrite.
Step 1) Writing Inhabitant passage using Anadiplosis.
• Startline: Use the start line from your first inhabitant writing: Write for 10 minutes
• Make sure everyone has a start line.

Step 2) One Liner Breakout—Line out the passage you just wrote using the model on the back of this sheet.
Analyze the writing. Circle the words that repeat. Are there patterns other than anadiplosis? How can you introduce rhythm and flex (see the Churchill example…)
Link up repetitions, words that come back, look for patterns. Look for places to introduce new devices. (Conduplicatio, epizeuxis, anaphora, epistrophe…. etc.)

Return to the Big Room:
Step 3) Read passage from Under the Tuscan Sun.

Step 4) Rewrite your One Line Breakout using Polysyndeton. Write for 10 minutes.
Feel free to introduce more devices.

5. Spot reading.

Homework. Week Four focuses on the language of Place in your Memoir. Type up your work from tonight. Bring to class writings about Places in one of your Nodes. Copies for your group.

The Language of Memoir, Week Four, April 22: “Going wild with Rhetoric”
1) Reading from Last week’s rewrite.
2. Warmup: The worst thing that ever happened to me happened in a place called…. 10 minutes.
Use stylistic devices for rhythm, flexibility, elegance, grace, balance… Make it sing and dance.
Reading in Groups
Choose a Reader
Study the Node Profile on handout.

Mini-lecture on elegance and grace in the Language of Memoir: Flexibility, elegance, grace, rhythm, balance. Continued emphasis on your role as Guardians of the language.
Introducing—Anaphora. Repetition at the beginning sentences, clauses, phrases.
Conduplication. Repetition of a key word at a distance from the reference.
Look at Churchill piece on back of this sheet.
3. Break into Two Groups. J-Group and B-Group.
Writers read Place passages you brought.
• Count the sentences.
• Total words in one paragraph.
• Divide # of sentences into total word count.
• Average length of sentence is…… words.
• Longest sentence length is…… words.
• Shortest sentence length is…… words.
• Look for rituals and syntactic flex in the writing.

4. Four-step rewrite.
Step 1) Writing place passage using Anadiplosis.
• Startline: Use the start line from your first place writing: Write for 7 minutes.
• Make sure everyone has a start line.

Step 2) One Liner Breakout—Line out the passage you just wrote using the model.
Analyze the writing. Circle the words that repeat. Are there patterns other than anadiplosis? How can you introduce rhythm and balance?
Step 3) Add anaphora or conduplication.

Return to the Big Room:

Step 4) Rewrite your One Line Breakout using polysyndeton. Write for 10 minutes. Feel free to introduce more devices.

5. Spot reading.

Homework. Week Five focuses on the language of Object in your Memoir. Type up your work from tonight. Bring to class writings about Object in one of your Nodes.
Note: Week Seven is the target date for Node Writing Portfolio. We want to see only the work you’ve done this term. We want to see your expertise in rhetorical devices.
Note: Study the Node Profile on the handout. Use it as a model for your own Node Work. Hand in your own Node Profile with Node Writing on Week Seven.

 

Share

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *
*
*