Friday, November 14, 2014

Film Writes: On Being the Hero of Your Own Story

Movies can be so insightful for the writing process. Really, almost anything can be insightful that way: an off-handed comment, an applicable situation, a chance encounter that turns out to be the perfect metaphor for authors at work.

Recently, I went to see The Judge with Robert Downey, Jr., and Robert Duvall. If you're on the fence about going, I urge you to make it a priority. It's a powerful story about the unforeseen circumstances that bring a truly dysfunctional family back together, though every inch of that journey is hard-fought.

Anyway ...

That aside, one of the characters makes a comment about two-thirds of the way into the movie that I jotted down (yes, I bring a notebook with me to every movie I see; I'm a writer).

Here's the line: "Whatever had or hadn't happened in the past, I was going to be the hero of my own story."

And I started thinking.

Writing a Memoir

What is a memoir if not an opportunity for you to be the hero of your own story?

You've studied your life as objectively as you can, being that you were the one who lived it and that always comes tangled up with baggage, uncertainty, regrets, hopes, ups and downs.

You've analyzed an angle of your life --- perhaps the rise and decline of a particular relationship, or a set of circumstances you survived, or how a road trip you took by yourself redefined your priorities. That's the angle you're going to focus on with your memoir. Every event, relationship, and memory you include will point back to that bigger picture.

Perhaps you've even got some, or all, of your memoir written. The draft is done, saved in a file or stored in a file drawer, maybe edited or not yet revised, maybe as complete as it's ever going to get.

I urge you to dig out that memoir, even if it's a couple of chapters or a rough outline or an idea scribbled on a napkin, and take a second look.

How Do You See Yourself?

How do you see yourself as you look back over your life?

Are you a victim of circumstances, someone that everybody else picked on, someone who missed out on whatever the world had to offer you because life isn't fair and fate can be cruel?

Are you angry, offended, defensive, bitter, with a chip on your shoulder and a point to prove, a sermon to deliver about what you've been through so you can feel vindicated?

Are you cynical and fatalistic, grieving a loss you doubt anyone else will be able to understand but determined to put it out there because you're dying inside not talking about it?

Wherever you are as you face the project that is or could become your memoir, your story, it's okay to be there. Whatever you feel is valid.

But I want to challenge you: What can you do to see yourself as the hero of your own story?

You: The Protagonist of Your Memoir

Think about something for a second.

You've already done something heroic.

In choosing to put your life story on paper, whatever portion of your life matters most deeply to you, you've made a stand.

You choose what events to put in your memoir. You choose how to show others. You choose how to remember the conversations you had.

You hold a great deal of power, and that makes you a heroic person, for having made the decision.

You're sharing intimate details of your life, things that maybe you haven't ever shared before. I urge you: don't hold back. If it belongs in the story, include it. Intimacy isn't gratuity; intimacy is choosing to be vulnerable for a bigger purpose.

You're writing to exorcise a demon or celebrate a victory or challenge a stereotype. I urge you: look outside your story. What universal truth does your life illustrate? How will others be able to relate to your story?

Heroism is about remembering others even in your pain. It's about moving forward despite feeling fear --- what we call courage. It's about giving yourself permission to be vulnerable enough to start your healing process, and inviting others to do the same.

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Are you the hero of your own story? How would you write or revise your memoir to make that a reality? What universal truth applies from your experience to others, and gives them something to which they can relate?

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