This past week I had an unusual experience in a memoir class. Several of us had turned in an excerpt to be critiqued during class. The workshop leader asked another writer to read my excerpt aloud. We were not to read our own work and we were not to look at the text. A writer named Leslie began to read mine.
As she read, I experienced something I had never felt before about one of my characters. It was Michael, my brother. It was as if I didn’t know him, had never known him and was meeting him for the first time. Certainly the workshop writers had never met him. Here he was being introduced into the story, becoming alive on the page and I really liked this person and felt tenderness well up in my heart for this character that was jumping around in the story in his scuffed tennis shoes and bright yellow t-shirt. Afterwards the class asked was the brother going to be throughout the memoir. “Yes,” I said, “all through.”
Over the past year I have found it increasingly difficult to write Michael’s character in the story. Every time I tried to write him in a scene, I felt a weariness come over me. Writing Michael had grown oh so tedious. I grew discouraged. It seemed impossible to capture an essential element of his personality. I wondered if, in part, this was due to how Michael and I had ended. Not good. He died in 2011.
Reading work out loud is not new to me. When I taught comp classes I would remind students to read their work aloud. It is certainly a useful way to edit, to identify passages where the text is unclear and where the transitions weak. I don’t think I told students to listen to someone else read their work while they listen without looking at the text.
Last week when I heard my memoir excerpt read aloud, something remarkable happened. I don’t know if it will happen again; I doubt it. But that surprise moment rekindled the energy and desire to continue to write this character in the memoir, not cut his role or resist the work.
Michael would very much enjoy knowing he has given me a hard time.
—Trudy Hale, editor-in-chief
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Featuredimage Escape by Charlie Hale. Used with permission.