When we write memoir or autobiographical fiction, our characters are drawn from the people we love, the people we know the best. So why is it that sometimes those characters appear the blurriest to readers, less vivid because they’re drawn from someone real? Is it possible that how close we are to someone might be the very thing that complicates turning them into an effective character? As writers, we must set aside self-interest to understand our characters’ motivations and allow them to live on the page. Only then will our characters have as much emotional reality for our readers as they do for us as writers. This is just sometimes difficult when we know them in real life—because writers are human, too. In this class, we’ll use writing exercises to develop the characters that just happen to be our family members. We’ll also read and discuss exceptional examples of family member characterization in published memoirs and autobiographical novels, and use these examples as models for our own writing. Be prepared with family stories and ready to write! Each student will receive an individualized email with suggestions for moving forward at the end of the class.
Alexandria (Alex) Marzano-Lesnevich is the author of The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir, which received a Lambda Literary Award, the Chautauqua Prize, the Grand Prix des Lectrices ELLE, and the Prix France Inter-JDD, an award for one book of any genre in the world. Named one of the best books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, Audible.com, Bustle, Book Riot, The Times of London, The Guardian, and The Sydney Press Herald, it was an Indie Next Pick and a Junior Library Guild selection, long-listed for the Gordon Burn Prize, short-listed for the CWA Gold Dagger, a finalist for a New England Book Award and a Goodreads Choice Award, and has been translated into nine languages. The recipient of fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, MacDowell, Yaddo, and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, as well as a Rona Jaffe Award, Marzano-Lesnevich has written for The New York Times, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Boston Globe, Oxford American, Harpers, and many other publications. They are an assistant professor at Bowdoin College and teach in the Pan-European low-residency MFA program. They live in Portland, Maine, with an enormous puppy.