Mosaics and Memoirs: One Year to a Writing Life Lesson #10

Tiberghien defines mosaics in writing as the assembling of “pieces of memory as he would the pieces of a mosaic.  You look for the various colors and shapes.  You move them around to find different patterns.  You form pictures of your life with them.  You write this way by accumulation and association.”

This makes sense to me, especially when it comes to writing a memoir.  I’ve started reading Julia Child’s My Life in France and she essentially warns the reader in the opening that she has taken this mosaic-like approach to the topic, though she doesn’t call it a mosaic.  But Frank McCourt does when he talks about writing his memoir, Angela’s Ashes.  McCourt said that  I had a lot of stuff in notebooks and I reverted to the notebooks and it was a mosaic approach . . .  I just put the pieces together.”

If a memoir is a window into our life, as Tiberghien claims, then every window needs a frame.  Finding and working the frame is what limits and holds together a memoir–it’s the scaffolding that allows the mosaic to exist, giving it its shape and form.  Frames can consist of anything:  a time period, an incident, a setting, an abstraction, a photo.  Whatever the framework, it’s the writers job to fit the pieces of the story into the frame in such a way that the story resonates.

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