Online Course

Advanced Memoir: From First Sentence to Resolution

September 13 - November 21

Level Advanced

Refine and refresh work in progress and take up the challenges of longer sections and full-length manuscripts.

Additional Information

This class is designed for writers who are ready to tackle the challenges of longer excerpts and full-length manuscripts. Over the course of 10 weeks, we will look at how to start a full manuscript, how to conceptualize and write “critical chapters,” and how to use/write a resolution in memoir when it must reflect real life.  We will also look at the importance of Truth in memoir. When is it okay to fill in gaps, cut or combine characters, or or speed up narrative to write an entertaining scene or narrative? You will learn the advanced technique of creating a contract between you, the author, and your reader, look at expanding your memoir beyond the the personal (the “I”), and practice incorporating the world surrounding your story using scene, research, and detail.

Course Schedule

Week 1: First Sentences and First Chapters -- Establishing Voice

We will look at how first lines and first pages of memoirs, through narrative description and word choice, not only identify themes for a whole book but also introduce the memoirist voice and establish immediate trust between writer and reader. We will look at examples, sharing what we all believe to be wonderful first sentences and chapters from our favorite books. We will begin working on our first chapter/first paragraphs for week three.

Week 2: Description for the Sake of Moving the Narrative Forward -- Working with Body Chapters

As writers, many of us love to sit in a moment and paint a picture of the world we have created in our writing, showing our readers where we are and how it looks, making them feel as if they are there, too. But you don’t want the story to stall while you stop to take in the scenery. This week you will explore using action (literal movement) within your description to move narrative forward. You will also submit a 1,500 -2,000 word first chapter that aims to create voice and theme.

Week 3: Tackling the Hardest Part of Writing Memoir -- Who Can You Include

Writing memoir can be very, very risky because we have to write about people besides ourselves. Many times, memoir is focused on the loss of loved ones, the cracking of marriages, abuse at the hands of parents or guardians, or other painful situations. Who can we include? Some of the hardest decisions to make include the representation of other people: who can we leave out while remaining true to the story? Can we use composite characters? Is it okay or necessary to change names? These are the questions we will tackle this week in the readings and discussions.

Week 4: Interviewing Others to Enrich Your Memoir

Interviewing others is not easy. Often you have only one opportunity to ask an interviewee for her story. This week, you will practice interviewing techniques that have proven effective in narrative nonfiction and discuss your pitfalls and successes. This week’s writing exercise will be the beginning of a longer essay to be turned in week six.

Week 5: Taking the “ME” out of Memoir -- Weaving in Other People’s Stories

The best part about using other people’s stories within your own is that it gives your readers a break from the first-person narrative. This week you will jump into third person for a while and explore the world through your interviewee’s experiences. You will share what you believe to be a middle chapter (1,500 - 2,000 words) that includes third-person narrative about someone else who is critical to your story.

Week 6: Framing and Scaffolding of the Memoir and Individual Chapters

How do we shape our memoir? How do we shape the chapters within it to create a fluid, whole, and cohesive book? Depending on what we are writing, this answer can change quite drastically. For instance, a story-based memoir will take a different shape than a research-based memoir. This week we look at look at how memoirs can be structured. We will also look at how chapters are structured within a memoir. We will talk broadly about the larger structural options: strict chronology, bookending, weaving, and other structural options for both the full book and the chapters.

Week 7: Writing Climactic Chapters in Memoir

Many of the best memoirs really do follow the well-known tradition of storytelling: catalyst, tension building, climax, and resolution. This week we will look at how to choose the part of your experience that would best serve as a climactic chapter. We will look at examples of climactic chapters in memoir and work together to find our own chapters.

Week 8: Writing a Resolution in Memoir

Life goes on after your memoir is published. For better and worse, there never is true resolution in memoir because we have to live after the book has sold. That being the case, how can you  create a feeling of resolution in a memoir? We must pick a moment in our experience that makes the story feel resolved—that feels conclusive—but at the same time, we have to be honest with our reader. We will share resolutions and return to the question, “What is ethical in memoir writing?” How do we remain ethically sound in choosing the conclusion of our memoir?

Week 9: Landscape, Setting, and Moving Through the World

This week we will look at how landscape, setting, and cultural identity can play a large part in memoir. We will use travel writing and nature writing examples to examine how environment can play a huge part in understanding identity, both personal and cultural, and how moving through the world – travel writing – can help move chapters forward in the memoir. You will turn in a 1,500 to 3,000 word climactic chapter and a 500-word resolution chapter.

Week 10: Publishing and the Ethics of Publishing Truth

After all the planning and polishing, structuring and revision, you want to share your writing with the world. During this week, we will continue our discussion on the ethical issues related to publishing memoir and creative nonfiction. We will review the steps and best practices for submitting complete manuscripts to agents and independent publishers; we’ll also discuss the option of self-publishing.

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Please Note

It is not uncommon for classes to fill up before the end of early registration, particularly in the last few days before the deadline. If you know for certain that you wish to take a particular class, we recommend registering early. If you'd like to be added to a waitlist for a sold-out class, please email our director of education, Sharla Yates, at [email protected].

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Education FAQs

  • How do I find my course archive?

    All course work is saved in Wet.Ink. When the course closes, you can find the archive by logging in to your account, and choosing “Past Classes.” Archives include course content (lectures, readings, writing prompts, etc.), your posts and writing submissions, and any feedback given on your writing. The course archive will not include your classmates’ writing submissions.

  • What do the course levels mean?

    FUNDAMENTALS—open to all levels.
    Our fundamentals courses are designed for those who are new to writing or new to creative nonfiction, as well as those who could benefit from a back-to-basics review on how to effectively and intentionally use elements of the writer’s craft.

    INTERMEDIATE—prerequisites suggested. 
    Our intermediate courses are designed for writers who have some experience either in the genre or CNF’s courses. Past course participation is not required, but we do recommend starting with one of our fundamentals courses, especially Foundations of Creative Nonfiction.

    ADVANCED—prerequisites for enrollment. 
    Our advanced courses are for writers who have completed two previous online courses (not including self-guided courses) with Creative Nonfiction (one must be an intermediate level course).

  • What makes CNF’s online courses different from other online programs?

    Flexibility
    Some online programs work on a “synchronous” model, which requires you to be online at an assigned time each week. The asynchronous model used in our classes means that you do not have to be online at any particular time of day, and can approach the class assignments at your own pace throughout the week based on your schedule. While some optional events, such as class video conferences, do take place at a specific time, the majority of class activities can be completed according to your schedule.

    Intimate Classes
    Classes are small—limited to 14 students per section—which means you’ll receive individual attention and feedback on your work.

    Experienced Instructors
    Good writing instructors not only need to be skilled writers, but also need to have experience in teaching what they know to others. That’s why all of our instructors are professional writers with extensive teaching experience.

    Substantial and Meaningful Writing Assignments
    Many online writing programs ask you to complete short writing exercises each week, and only near the end of the class are you invited to write a single essay or chapter. At Creative Nonfiction, we recognize the value of exercises, but also believe that completing an essay or chapter is the best way for developing writers to really explore how all the elements of creative nonfiction work together. Writing complete pieces also leaves you with a sense of accomplishment and with work that you can share when the class is completed. For this reason, in our classes you are invited to submit longer essays multiple times during a course. See course syllabus for more information.

    Sense of Connection
    We realize that it is difficult to find one’s writing community—which is why we now offer every new student membership to a Community Page where you can meet with other CNF students, during and after class.

  • What day and time is my online course?

    Our courses run asynchronously; meaning, you will NOT need to be online at any particular time. Assignments for CNF classes are given on a weekly basis; you should submit each assignment by a given deadline, but in most classes you will have at least an entire week to complete the assignment. We realize that our students live in many different areas and have different work schedules, so classes are designed to be flexible. Courses feature one live conference session, which does require that you be online at a particular time; however, participation in this session is completely optional, and instructors make an effort to offer times that can accommodate most students. This is scheduled by the instructor after class begins.If you are not able to participate in the live conference you will still be able to view a recording of it during the remaining weeks of the class. Please note that there are no video conferences in boot camp courses.

  • When do you offer courses? How long are they?

    Our terms include 5- and 10-week courses and run in fall (September-December), winter (January-March), and spring (April-June). In summer (July-August), we offer only 5-week courses.