by Jerry Waxler
Despite Andre Agassi’s fame, his memoir “Open” takes you on a real emotional ride worthy of any excellent story. In this multi-part essay, I look for lessons in the book that can help me learn about the structure of a memoir.
Every protagonist needs emotional flaws
Agassi became the best tennis player in the world, but it was never enough. Even with his money, his fame, and his supermodel wife, his dissatisfaction always left him sour. Talk about ungrateful! This guy was beginning to sound like a real jerk.
While genre fiction typically sets the protagonist against an external villain, in memoirs the enemy often lies within. Agassi’s disaffection with his first wife, the relentless pressure to win, and other internal battles created increasing agitation. He slipped close to the edge of an emotional abyss. His attitude became so bad he didn’t see any harm in a little crystal meth, a self-destructive choice for anyone. But with all the strict regulations in tennis, the move could have devastated his career. Surprisingly, Agassi’s revelation of flawed choices, rather than alienating me, drew me closer to him, letting me care not just about his career, but about a complete person.
Write a scene that showed you behaving poorly. Such scenes may be dark, but you don’t need to be stuck there. The power of memoir writing comes from the complete picture, including the whole gamut of your experience. Write a scene in which someone, whether a stranger or a friend reached out to help you. Write another scene that shows your courage, your self-awareness, and your progress. These lows and highs give your reader a real person to relate to, on a more authentic level than if you pretend you have always been perfect.
Write about taboo behavior
Andre Agassi’s behavior crossed a taboo. He took drugs while playing professional sports and then lied about it. Some people will never forgive him, and yet he revealed the behavior anyway. There are other taboo subjects like child abuse or other forms of cruelty that your audience will not be disposed to forgive. One way you could explore the topics is through fiction. Having said that, we live in a time when taboos are breaking down all the time. Brooke Shields’ memoir “Down Came the Rain” is a fascinating example. The social expectation for all mothers to love their babies has created a wall of silence around postpartum depression. Shields leveraged her stardom along with the self-reflective mood of our times to bring this crucial mental health issue into the open.
More memoir writing resources
To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.
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