Structure

Jimmy FerryI had a story.  This much I knew.  And I’d have liked to construct it in a suspenseful way—you know, the reader on the edge of her seat, eagerly turning pages to discover how the book “ends”—but I knew that wasn’t feasible. I was a criminal, and a rather brazen one; my being apprehended had to be front and center, but that’s merely situational.  The actual story begins much earlier and ends sometime later, so I decided to open in medias res—in the midst of things—and then go back to an earlier time, allowing events to unfold within the context of a doomed protagonist.  But then I had to show resolution beyond the downfall.  So a linear structure would never do.  A circular narrative seemed more fitting, but even that wasn’t wholly adequate; I tried beginning at the end and then cycling back around but adhering to chronology led a lot of flabby writing.  To paraphrase Annie Dillard, I kept hanging on the reader like a drunk.  “And then this happened, and then this happened.”  There are many ruts into which a budding memoirist is liable to fall, the majority of which can be worked out, but the inclusion of events simply because they occurred is particularly egregious.  Granted, you’ll need a workable draft before you can see what fits and what doesn’t, so relentless typing is required.  But so is judicious editing.  Cutting huge swaths of material is hard on a writer, especially a new one, but not only is it necessary, it’s liberating—like dropping a heavy rucksack at the end of a long trek.  And as the soul of your manuscript emerges on the page, you just might discover, as I did, that at the heart of your memoir lie a paradox: The book isn’t about you at all.

A circular narrative seemed more fitting, but even that wasn’t wholly adequate; I tried beginning at the end and then cycling back around but adhering to chronology led a lot of flabby writing.

Swirls in the Negative Space is structured so that information is dispensed as needed—that is, instead of adhering to a strict timeline, details and characters are introduced according to where we are thematically.  Flashbacks and flash-forwards are deployed sparingly, and in service of the story.  The oriented reader should find the bite-sized chapters to be satisfying and easy to digest. The logic of associative memory trumps chronology, yes, but the through-line works.  The thing coheres.