Writing Conference: Tip for Memoirists – Use myth to find story

by Jerry Waxler

The Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group (www.glvwg.org) held its annual meeting April 27-28, 2007, and I found all sorts of valuable writing insights, that I want to share with memoir writers.

I went to a workshop for non-fiction writers given by Jack Lule, professor of journalism at Lehigh University, and author of “Daily News, Eternal Stories, the mythological role of journalism.” His talk was about using mythology to write non-fiction stories. I knew I was going to be interested in his ideas, because I have been reading and writing about how to use the Hero’s Journey to help write the story of your life. My ideas on this topic were derived from several books, mainly Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, as well as other experiences in my workshops, and my own analysis of storytelling. So I was looking forward to hearing what a university professor had to say on this topic. I was not disappointed.

The first thing he did was emphasize the importance of story. This might seem surprising coming from a journalist. Journalists are supposed to just write what they see. Right? But Lule started noticing some news caught fire, and some didn’t. He began looking for the reason for this difference, and he realized that when a story just conveys information, it does not generate energy. The stories that have the most energy are organized as a story, not as “information.”

This is a powerful observation for an aspiring memoirist who is trying to gather the facts of their life and turn them into a good read. But the next problem is the obvious question, “how do you find the story?” I’m glad you asked. Through years of observation, Lule realized that the stories that caught the public’s imagination looked a lot like myths. The idea that myths are built in to our collective consciousness is a familiar perspective to those scholars who study Carl Jung. His ideas have become canonical observations in the cultural and psychological thinking of the twentieth century.

This could be a fabulous insight to help journalists or memoirists who want to organize information into a story. But what good is this information for those of us who have don’t have time to go back to school, or read dozens of books on Greek, Norse, or Celtic mythology, and then derive from all that reading the lessons that could help our writing?

That’s where teachers and writers like Jack Lule come in. Through examples and explanations his book helps us find the “myth power” that fuels the story. Some of the myths he mentioned in his talk are the “trickster”, the “great mother,” and the “hero figure.” Armed with this information, we can then use it to find the myth that applies to our facts. Such insights could help us organize our memoir, make it more compelling and engaging. With the help of Lule’s book, which I immediately bought, I expect to find additional ways to use myth for storytelling. myths that Lule offers.

I’ve already written about the Hero’s Journey in both of my books, Four Elements for Writers, and Learn to Write your Memoir in Four Weeks. Now leaving this workshop I felt that in just 50 minutes, my writing reach had been extended. It was a great way to spend an afternoon, and I expect to be able to make use of this information for the rest of my life.

More memoir writing resources

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

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