Making Your Memoir Read Like a Novel: Using the Tools and Techniques of Fiction to Enhance Personal Storytelling (with Zoe FitzGerald Carter)

Zoe Fitzgerald Carter

Zoe Fitzgerald Carter


Number of sessions: 6

Time:  6:30 pm – 9:00 pm

Dates: Mondays, October 5, 12, 19, 26; November 2 & 9

Course fee: $365

In this class, we will take the components of literary fiction — plot, scene, dialogue, character, etc — and apply them to memoir and personal essay.  We will start with structure (beginnings, endings, timelines and story arcs) and move towards more abstract issues of theme, metaphor and symbolism (What is your story REALLY about?). In between, we will talk about what makes up a strong narrative voice (tone, language, style), how to write convincing dialogue, and why it is important to think of yourself as a character on the page. The last night will be devoted to specific craft issues — everything from choosing strong verbs to avoiding qualifiers and other writerly flotsam.

Whether your writing is largely theoretical or fully underway, this class will give you a chance to think both deeply and practically about your work and develop your writing technique. We will read excerpts from novels, literary memoirs and first-person essays and each student will have a chance to submit a piece of writing for critique by the class. (Critiques are meant to be helpful and supportive; I maintain a strict no-snark zone in my class.)

Zoe FitzGerald Carter is the author of the memoir Imperfect Endings: A Daughter’s Story of Love, Loss, and Letting Go (Simon & Schuster).The book chronicles her mother’s decision to end her life after living with Parkinson’s disease for many years and the struggle Zoe and her two sisters had coming to terms with that choice. Paula Span of the New York Times said, “I could quote from this book all day,” and People magazine wrote Imperfect Endings “coaxes beauty from the bleak.” A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, Zoe has written for numerous publications including the New York Times, the San Francisco ChronicleSalon and Vogue. Zoe currently lives in the Bay Area and is at work on a nonfiction book about race, Facebook and unexpected kinship. She also performs with local string band Do Wrong Right. Learn more at

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