Writing Your Memoir: Telling by Showing

Pictures can be profoundly evocative and so may have an important role in telling your story.  They will ignite your own memories, capture your readers’ imagination, and add to your readers’ knowledge and understanding.

Photographs carefully ordered and presented with explanatory captions could, by themselves, create a meaningful memoir.  And if you have artistic skills, you might tell your story in part or wholly through drawings and paintings.  More often, photographs and artwork are a captivating adjunct to a story told in words.

In his memoir Growing to 80, my father, Mason Hayek, makes extensive use of his drawings to help communicate his history.  In some sections, the drawings carry most of the weight.  More often, my father’s drawings, as well as photographs, supplement his prose and poetry.

Examples from Growing to 80 may give ideas of how you can use artwork and photographs to tell your story.

This drawing of my father’s boyhood home and his caption introduce us to his parents and to the setting for his childhood:

Daddy's boyhood homeThe drawing here shows our house, 317 Superior Street (formerly Yankee Street), St. Paul. Mother and Dad bought a cottage at this address shortly after their marriage, in 1904. Dad then enlarged the house in 1922 to that shown here, using his skill in carpentry and bringing much of the material for the alteration on his bicycle.

Including photographs such as this one, which is of my father’s parents, also adds interest and depth to the memoir—and helps to ensure the photos’ preservation even if the originals are eventually lost:

Frank Hayek and Eugenia Lydon HayekFrank Hayek and Eugenia Lydon Hayek

 

In addition to photographs of people and places, the chapters about my father’s Minnesota boyhood include pictures of artifacts such as school documents, a letter to Santa that my father wrote when he was seven, and cards that he made for his mother:

Daddy's Perfect-Attendance Certificate, Monroe Jr. High

Daddy's Letter to Santa, 1927

Daddy's Card for His Mother 4

In my father’s memoir, drawings help him convey some of the experiences he had while visiting the Kentucky village where my mother, Doris Lynn Burgess Hayek, lived until she was a young adult:

Doris’s friends from Paint Lick and nearby towns have remained her lifelong friends. I’m grateful that I have been accepted as a friend by Doris’s friends, and I feel bonds to them. Among these friends was Elizabeth Coy, who is now gone. Below is my pen-and-ink drawing of her home, located in Richmond, Kentucky.

Coy Home

My father introduces a section called “Northern Scenes” this way:

During parts of the years when Winnie was in camp in Maine, Doris and I vacationed at “David’s Folly,” a salt-water farm that had been converted to an inn by Minerva Cutler. The enjoyable times in David’s Folly were augmented by drives to Blue Hill, Stonington, and Castine and by walks to nearby woods and the beautiful coves, inlets of Penobscot Bay. Enchanting scenes were everywhere, subjects for drawing. Then during the years that Winnie lived in Maine and Massachusetts, Doris and I visited her many times, and we three enjoyed the scenery of the New England states.

Then he shares numerous drawings, such as this one:

CovePenobscot Bay cove, West Brooksville, Maine

The section also has this photograph:

Daddy at the CoveMason Hayek sitting by Penobscot Bay

My father’s prose and poetry are captivating in themselves, but his drawings and photographs add dimensions that cannot easily be communicated in words.

What visual elements are available to you to help you tell your story?

 

Next: Your story in verse

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