Using Candy Land to Write Your Memoir

candy land 2

When you teach a writing class, you often get students who want to share their personal writing. I don’t mind a bit, in fact I encourage my students to share as much as they’d like to.

One of my students recently handed me a multi-chaptered piece that he was working on. It was a memoir of his life. Although there was a lot of good information, and even though he had a good voice in his writing, the piece was not going to go far without a major revision.

What memoir isn’t

First of all – a memoir is not a diary. It’s not about what you do on a day-to-day basis.

What a memoir is

A memoir is a story of how you got from here to there. In its rawest form it’s like a game of Candy Land.

“Here” is where a life changing event occurs. This life changing event can be a death or a journey, but like the acceptance of a task in the hero’s journey, it has to start you on your path to your “there.” Once that opening event has been established you can then go to a backstory that tells your readers how you got to your life changing event. But you need to begin at the beginning so that your reader can join you.

After your life changing event, or starting point has been decided, you’ll need to figure out where your ending will be. The end of your story is not “I got better and went off into the sunset”, it is more along the lines of “because of this episode in my life I have changed for the better and here’s how and what I did as a result.”

Think of the story of “Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” It’s the story of a hiker whose arm got caught under a rock and who then had to cut his arm off in order to survive. The caught arm is the life changing event. How he ultimately dealt with that loss (which triggered healing from previous losses) and how he grew in self-confidence is the ending. The pages of the book tell of how he went from “here” to “there.”

When you know where you are starting and where you are ending, then like any kind of effective journey EVERY SINGLE scene in that memoir needs to help you on the path from here to there. If it doesn’t then it’s simply filler and you need to get rid of it.

Pretend your story is like a game of Candy Land. While you might spend some time along the way in places like the Peppermint Stick Forest or Lollypop Woods, your job as a writer will be to keep your journey moving forward until you reach your ending (which in this example is that lovely gingerbread house we all wanted to live in as children.)

Oh sure, you might slide into a back story (Rainbow Trail), or you might jump ahead in time (Mountain Pass) to make a point, but everything, absolutely everything you write should propel you forward and eventually lead your reader to your ending.

Piece of cake right? Or should I say peanut brittle?

If you’re a memoir writer, the next time you get lost in your story take a look at a Candy Land playing board to remind of you of where you’ve started and where it is you still need to go on your journey.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

23 thoughts on “Using Candy Land to Write Your Memoir

  1. I found this post really quite interesting. The story I am planning to write for NaNoWriMo should end up being structured a lot like a memoir. Also, I couldn’t help but mention that I loved that game growing up, thanks for reminding me of it haha 🙂

  2. Oooh, now I want some peanut brittle. And – loved this post. Great way to think about writing your story. It’s definitely the experiences in life that change you or surprise you that ultimately become catalysts for where you go next.

  3. Pingback: Using Candy Land to Write Your Memoir | Toni Kennedy : A Writing Life

  4. This is serendipitous – I spent six months on a ‘write biography course’ asking the same questions over and over, with no clear answer that clicked. I’m also on a day course tomorrow, with the plan to ask more questions about biographies and memoirs. In 700 words or so, you’ve made more sense and provided succinct answers to my ongoing queries! I have one more question, one that I have been given a different answer to, time and time again. I’m writing my grandfather’s biography, he was a Forgotten Australian and has quite a story to tell. However, I want to include conversations that I cannot verify – in fact, I want to write them creatively, as a mix of many people’s memories of what went on. Bascially, I’d be making up the content of the conversations, but they would be ‘based on a true story’.

    • sorry, got excited and hit ‘send’ instead of enter. My question is, can I still call this a biography (or memoir) even though it contains fictitious and ‘compiled’ events and conversations?
      Thank you for making the time to read to the end of this long comment!

      • I’ve seen people get around this by putting a disclaimer at the front of the book along the lines of

        “some conversations have been recreated based on gathered information”

        I think if you are upfront with your readers and you do your best to keep to what really happened, you’ll be okay.

        Wendy

  5. Apparently I’m writing a memoir, going by your description! That’s cool. When you said Candy Land I almost thought you meant that horrid thing on Facebook called Candy Crush I received endless invitations to play. NOOOOOO! But I thank you that it wasn’t!
    That WiP is on hold so I must go through it one day and make sure every scene is on track. Thanks for the advice!

  6. Hi all,
    Obviously Candyland is a popular US game. I’ve never heard about it before today. I get the brilliant analogy though. Thank you for such an informative post. Thank you for setting out how someone should go about writing a memoir and highlighting what it is not. Very useful.
    I can even see how someone could use this strategy to write an effective post – deciding what your “here” is, what your desired “there” will be and cutting out the surplus waffle in between. As a newbie blogger who tends to be rather wordy, I think this approach may help me to write tighter. Thank you once again. An enjoyable read also.

  7. So… if memoir writing is like Candy Land… is fiction writing like Chutes and Ladders? Oddly enough, I’m not being sarcastic or snarky (which tends to be the tone most think I excel at), but maybe planting an idea for another blog post. This was so great (not that I ever want to write a memoir or anything) because it has solid, workable ideas that can be simple incorporated into a story.
    Granted, if I were ever to write a memoir, instead of using Candy Land as my working idea, I think I might have to use the game Trouble or Sorry… oh, look, my snark is back.

    • That’s a fantastic idea – a series of plot designs based on board games. And while shoots and ladders may apply to fiction, I think that the tried and true Candy Land can also be used. In fiction, you still have to move your story forward with every scene – but I get what you are talking about with the twists and turns of shoots and ladders.

      Hmmm – I’ll have to think about this.

      Wendy

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