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At the Heart of Personal Narrative

These lines were given to me (us) by a grad school professor. I don’t have any attribution to go with them. All I can say is I didn’t write them. They do such a good job of explaining what’s going on when people write memoirs that I’m recording them here.

In nonfiction, the writer has only the singular self to work with. So it is the other in oneself that the writer must seek and find to create movement, achieve a dynamic. Inevitably, the piece builds only when the narrator is involved not in confession but in this kind of self-investigation, the kind that means to provide motion, purpose, and dramatic tension. Here, it is self-implication that is required. To see one’s own part in the situation—that is, one’s own frightened or cowardly or self-deceived part—is to create the dynamic.