Myths Suggest a Universal Template for Memoirs

by Jerry Waxler

Read Memoir Revolution to learn why now is the perfect time to write your memoir.

To share our life story, we first explore our interior landscape, searching for information that will make sense to ourselves. But when we try to explain our past to readers, it must do better than simply make sense. It must be interesting. So writers go on another quest, looking for techniques that will help them tell a good story. But not all of us know how to do that. Take me for example. Despite years of consuming stories, I didn’t know the first thing about creating one.

My first foray into the nature of storytelling came from a weighty book called simply “Story” by Robert McKee. McKee, a writing teacher, explained the steps needed to create a screenplay. His matter-of-fact approach gave me hope that I could learn enough about the structure to perhaps someday create my own.

My next burst of understanding came from Joseph Campbell’s “Hero of a Thousand Faces.” Campbell’s explanation was based on a lifetime of studying world mythology. From his complex research he drew elegant conclusions about the importance of storytelling for human society.

I also attended workshops which taught me the various components of stories, such as characters, dialog, and plot. In one workshop, Jack Lule, a professor at nearby Lehigh University, shared his insights into the way mythology can help explain why some news stories resonate with public interest and some fall flat. He wrote about this topic in his book  “Daily News, Eternal Stories: The Mythological Role of Journalism.”  See my article on Jack Lule’s talk about myths and news.

All these parts of the storytelling puzzle fascinated me but I couldn’t figure out how to put them all together. Then I hit paydirt. The book “Writer’s Journey” by Chris Vogler explained how storytellers and mythmakers have been following a template since the beginning of recorded history. From the basic system outlined by Chris Vogler, I saw the parts of stories more clearly and began to form ideas about how I could apply these principles to my own life.

At first I was surprised by the simplicity of his ideas, but over time grew to see them as an inevitable connection of all humans throughout civilization. From that point of view, it made perfect sense that mythology is loaded with universal story telling devices. For example, here are some of the techniques that could be applied to memoir writing.

Mentors, Trainers and Training
Weapons, Weapon Masters
Talismans
Potions
Shape shifting
Chosen Clan, Allies
Coming Home or Nostoi

Some of these mythmaking devices look fanciful, completely disconnected from real life. And yet, with a little imagination, you can see how these techniques might highlight subtle aspects of your own story. To illustrate how this works, I will point out echoes of these mythological structures, suggested by Andre Agassi’s memoir “Open,” and then offer suggestions about how you can use them yourself.

In following posts, I will focus on each of these topics, give examples, and offer writing prompts for your own memoir in progress.

Note

This is part of a multi-part essay about Andre Agassi’s memoir “Open.”

More memoir writing resources

To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.

To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

One thought on “Myths Suggest a Universal Template for Memoirs

  1. Pingback: Memoir About A Crazy Artist Helps me Understand the World! | Memory Writers Network

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