Connecting the Chapters of Our Lives – Guest Post by, Cynthia Reyes…

(Or: The glue that holds your Memoir together)

Licence to use obtained – Copyright: gmm2000 / 123RF Stock Photo

Not everyone writes a memoir in chronological order. Often, we write as we remember. And having written some or all of the chapters of our lives, we find ourselves with a puzzle. We have a bunch of stories; nothing ties them together.

How to put some order on the disorder? How to make a single narrative out of the wonderful chaos of your memories?

This guide will help you transform what you’ve written into one story — the powerful story of your remarkable life. It’s specific and detailed, so take a seat!


  1. Identify Your Reasons Why

First, answer these questions:

  • Why am I writing this Memoir?
  • Who is it for?
  • What will they learn from it?

Post the answers in a prominent spot and refer to them from time to time.

  • It’s especially important to revisit your answers to these questions when a draft of your Memoir is complete.

2. Reread your manuscript, and ask yourself:

    • What is my story about?(Identifying the Main Theme/s) Is it about: (e.g.) Coming of Age? Dealing with Loss? Living My Best Life? Risk and Adventure? The Healing Power of Love? Faith and Doubt? Abandonment? Forgiveness? Recovery? Thriving Despite Adversity? What?

    • How is/are the theme/s developed over the course of my Memoir?

    • Does my Memoir focus on a fixed period of time (“The Summer of My Discontent”), or does it follow one aspect of my life over many years?

Whether your Memoir presents a slice of your life or a layer, answering these questions will help you to begin framing and structuring your Memoir.

Next, write a Synopsis of your Memoir,answering the questions above in compelling language. It will keep you honest as you fine tune and polish your manuscript!

3. Revise your Table of Contents.

So far:

  • You’ve identified your reasons for writing the Memoir.
  • You’ve identified the major theme/s.
  • You’ve also created a rough structure identifying the progression of the overall story from the beginning to middle and through to the end.
  • And – hooray – you’ve written the brief Synopsis of your Memoir.

The above steps help you to focus your story and stay on track.

Your next step is to review your Table of Contents (TOC).

  • How does your TOC reflect the development of your major theme/s through the beginning, middle and end of your Memoir?

What chapters need to be moved around, added, changed or dropped altogether to comply with your main theme/s and basic structure

4. Reinforce Your Main Theme/s.

With a new and improved Table of Contents, you’ve taken another giant step forward.

It’s now time to make sure your main themes are reinforced throughout the book. There are several practical ways to do this. Here are some:

  1. Your book’s Front Cover.It’s your first opportunity to both intrigue the reader and signal the major theme of the book. (Here’s where a skilled designer comes in.)

  2. Your Book’s Opening. Whether it’s called a Preface, an Introduction or a “Letter to My Readers”, this is a good place to introduce the main themes of your book.

    • An introductory letter to your reader, e.g. is sometimes used to tell readers why you’ve written this book, and what you hope they will gain from it.

  3. Parts.Some books have 3 parts, as in a 3-act play. It’s an easy way to impose structure – (Beginning, Middle and End of your story). But I’ve seen memoirs that have up to 5 parts. Each section builds on the preceding, and may focus on (e.g.) a particular subject, event, person, place or period of your life.

  4. Intros to Each Part.Introductory poem excerpts, quotes or notes to the reader (e.g.) are often placed at the start of each “part” or chapter, hinting at what’s to come.

  5. Images.Use documents and images that are relevant to the main theme/s of the book or to the part/chapter where an image is being used.
  6. Lessons Learned.These may be placed periodically throughout the book as long as they don’t stop the story or throw it off track.
  7. Your Book’s Closing.A closing chapter may be used to remind readers of your main themes, and may include the life lessons you have learned, as well as a look to the future.

  8. Appendices.Appendices are usually placed at the backof the book. If you have many items in that section a mini table of contents may be helpful to the reader.

5. Find Opportunities for Linkages

  1. Book Title.The title is the first thing the reader notices. It should intrigue/ invite the reader to open the book. The title, often also shown at the top of each page,reminds readers, as they read, of what the book is about.

  2. Part and Chapter Titles.The same goes for the titles of each part of your book. Even chapter titles can help to maintain links to your journey.

  3. Chapter endings.The last line or paragraph of each chapter can help to build anticipation for the next, and make the connection seamless in the reader’s mind. E.g. “As the door closed behind him, I knew that I was in for trouble.”

  4. Chapter beginnings.You can start a chapter by referring to something that happened in the one immediately before (or earlier), thus creating a link between the two. E.g. “I didn’t expect to return to Mandy’s home. But the very next day, that’s exactly what happened.”

  5. Foreshadowing.Similar to ‘c’ directly above, but may be used at any point in a chapter. To foreshadow is to hint at something to come, without saying exactly what. Useful for building suspense, too.

  6. The Leitmotif.A recurring “theme”, something you use over and over for effect. This could be a reference to a certain quote or song lyrics; the repeated use of a particular saying; a running gag of some sort.

  7. Anchors.Some books use particular venues or group settings to which the writer always returns. I use my kitchen and garden as anchors in my book “An Honest House”. I also use the Sunday dinner where my family reunites and shares stories. Here, the use of recurring characters is particularly helpful. (In my book, it’s my family members.)

  8. References.Reference a person, place, time or thing that appeared in an earlier chapter. Be sure, when you initially do this, to reintroduce the person, place or thing in a few words, as your reader may have forgotten. E.g. “My favourite cousin Elaine”. Time references are also useful. E.g. “This was back in the summer of 1986, the season when I had my first kiss.” 

6. Use a Consistent Writing Style – Your Writing “Voice”

    1. What relationshipdo you want to create with the reader? Do you talk to the reader directly or not? Is your style casual and breezy or formal? Witty or serious? Do you sometimes stop and address the reader? Your writing style is your own unique way of talking to your reader.As people read your story, they get used to that style and become comfortable with it.

    2. Your choice of wordsand how you put them together. (Relates to ‘a’ above.)This might include a special ‘turn of phrase’ that’s unique to you.

    3. Rhythm. One of my editors calls this “the music”. It’s the rhythm you create by the way you pace the storytelling; the length of sentences and paragraphs; use of dialogue, etc. Is it a gentle and lyrical rhythm, quick and to-the-point or a mixture?


Cynthia Reyes is the author of two memoirs: A Good Home and An Honest House, as well as the children’s illustrated book Myrtle the Purple Turtle.



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33 thoughts on “Connecting the Chapters of Our Lives – Guest Post by, Cynthia Reyes…

  1. Great post with wide application – I know it’s focused on memoir-writing, but the structural advice and methodology is good for all writing – fiction and non-fiction alike. For me the reasons for writing memoir usually betray the tenor of its contents – as Churchill once said, ‘history shall remember me as a great man… I know, for I shall write that history.’ He did, too, in both senses of what he meant.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You’ve created a fantastic template here, Cynthia. As I was reading this, I realized that I used a similar process when writing my fiction books. You’ve put a lot of thought into this, and I wonder if you applied the process when writing this article…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks a lot, Tina. Glad you saw similarities to your own process! I definitely used several of these techniques — e.g. I kept referring, linking and reinforcing! (smile) I originally created this document for my Memoir Writing students, who are all producing books, and will complete these books on their own. I knew they would need some support in this later stage, so I created a “care package” for them. This document is part of the care package.

      Liked by 2 people


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