Memoir Basics 4: Writing an eye-catching opener

Memoir openers

Opening with a memory trigger

In this snippet, the story of what triggered the memoir is the opener.

Memories can be triggered by all sorts of things—sights, smells, songs, you name it. It flicks something in your subconscious and all of a sudden the memory comes flooding back.

Here’s Ned Vizzini talking about such an experience. Notice that all the detail is about triggering a memory and not about the memory itself. You’ll have to keep reading the memoir to find that out!

Yesterday, on a strange, sudden urge, I hooked up my old Nintendo. Not the Super NES. The original, spawn-of-the-eighties, from-Japan-with-love, eight-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. It had been lying in a closet for years and was dusty and tough to get working. But when I plugged it in and hit that power button, I was back to being nine years old on the day we bought it.

Teen Angst? Naaah... Ned VizziniSource
Our thoughts...

This is a classic story opener. In the present, you encounter something from your past that you haven’t thought of in ages and you get nostalgic. Suddenly, memories kick in and you’re back to that time. Let the memoirs begin!

Here are some examples following that pattern.

On the weekend, as I was cleaning out my cupboards, I discovered the first sketchbook I ever filled. A plain, blue-lined notepad, dog eared and tatty, with scribble pencil sketches and pasted scraps of paper sticking out. It had been buried under thirty years of correspondence, printouts and… life. But when I opened it and ran my eyes down those early drawings, I was back to being twelve years old and ready to take on the world.

On Father’s Day last year, for no reason I could think of, I jumped into my car and drove eight and a half hours to my childhood home. The dusty, decrepit, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town I haven’t seen since I left the day I turned sixteen. The town my parents loved. I may have been tired and a little emotional, but the moment that Welcome to Morven sign came into view, I became that confused, angry teen again.

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