How often do you write a life story that has more than one subject? What? It never occurred to you to consolidate topics? Welcome to the vast majority! Few people do. It’s natural to follow the ratio of one topic : one story. Not only is it natural, but when you read books on the subject, the planning chapters always have you make lists of story topics, and none of them (as far as I recall) discuss the option of doubling up.
There are several ways of doing this. One is nesting, where stories are imbedded, one within another, like a set of Russian nesting dolls. This technique requires that you return to complete each successive layer in reverse order to bring the overall story to closure.
Another way is to segue from one related story to the next, with a couple of lines of transition between.
One of the most interesting is to string small stories together along an ongoing thread story.
Lori Jakiela uses this latter approach in Miss New York Has Everything, her recent memoir of growing up in Trafford, PA. In one chapter she uses the ongoing saga of a visit from her aunt, an alcoholic nun who is also a member of Narcotics Anonymous. She uses the occasion of the visit to string together ten shorter stories like beads on a necklace. Additional details of the aunt’s visit space the added stories like knots between pearls.
This book will surely become a classic for students of memoir and lifestory writing because it offers outstanding examples of story structure along with rollicking humor that begs to be read aloud to anyone within earshot. But perhaps its strongest feature is the tenderness and insight with which she describes her parents, two ordinary working class people who become extraordinary through the loving pen of their daughter.
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal