If you’re like me, you remember very well the magazine, Highlights for Children, and one of its regular features, “Goofus and Gallant.” Six panels of drawings compared the comportment of the two boys: the always ill-behaved, Goofus, and the ever. . .well, the ever-gallant, Gallant.” The first panel on the left might say, “When Goofus loses, he runs away, crying.” The right panel might then counter: “Gallant doesn’t cry when he loses in games.” You get the idea. Goofus illustrates poor choices; Gallant shows us how to conduct ourselves.

I thought it might be fun, then, to use this strategy to make some points about the writing of memoir. So, without, the aid of drawings, here are the captions:

Goofus writes a memoir to show how everyone has misunderstood him.

Gallant writes a memoir because he wants to think more deeply about an experience he doesn’t fully understand.

*

Goofus intends for his memoir to punish those who punished him.

Gallant wants the characters in his memoir to have dimension. He investigates the sources of people’s poor behavior in an attempt to better understand them. He doesn’t shy away from their flaws, nor does he blind himself to their admirable qualities. He also recognizes his own shortcomings.

*

Goofus wants to be the hero of his memoir. “Enough about me,” he says. “Tell me what you think about me.”

Gallant knows the true hero or heroine of a memoir is never the writer. He makes room for other people and dramatizes the interactions that were significant to the experience he’s considering.

*

Goofus writes a memoir to stay in the past.

Gallant remembers that Patricia Hampl (yes, Gallant reads Patricia Hampl) said the memoir is never about the past; it’s, instead, about the future. Gallant knows this means he revisits the past to influence the future into which he’s ready to move.

*

Goofus doesn’t worry about shaping a story. He just rambles and spews.

Gallant knows his goal is to give lived experience an artistic shape. He weighs his options carefully before deciding which form best allows him to express his content.

*

Goofus makes up his mind before he writes. He makes up his mind about people and events. He makes up his mind about himself. He fits his story to what he’s decided. He leaves no room for reflection, and, therefore, no room for discovery. He’s more interested in saying, “and then this happened, and then this, and then this.”

Gallant admits what he doesn’t know about people and situations and then sets out to see what he can learn through dramatization and reflection. He’s more interested in investigating why things happened and what they mean as he looks back on them now.

The message should be clear: when it comes to writing a memoir, don’t be self-absorbed like Goofus. Be open and thoughtful like Gallant.

12 Comments

  1. Roberta W. Coffey on September 5, 2016 at 9:10 am

    Once again, Lee, wonderful advice that hits the nail right on the head. Thank you.

    • Lee Martin on September 5, 2016 at 5:11 pm

      Thanks, Roberta. I hoped there might be some good tips for folks via a fun form.

  2. Billy on September 5, 2016 at 9:55 am

    “memoir is never about the past; it’s, instead, about the future.” Love this. Good stuff. It’s so tempting to write essay and memoir with the intent of settling old scores. I know I have felt this pull towards using it as nothing more than a vent for anger and frustration. Thanks for this reflection.

    • Lee Martin on September 5, 2016 at 5:12 pm

      You bet, Billy. Memoir should be an act of exploration and discovery, rather than an act of settling something.

  3. Morgan Baker on September 5, 2016 at 10:35 am

    Love this. Thanks.

  4. Jayne Martin on September 5, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    “Gallant writes a memoir because he wants to think more deeply about an experience he doesn’t fully understand.” Mic drop. 🙂

    • Lee Martin on September 5, 2016 at 5:12 pm

      Thanks, Jayne!

  5. Dianne Smith on September 11, 2016 at 7:19 pm

    Thank you for this article. Not that I know Goofus and Gallant but that is an interesting way of pointing out differences in reasons for writing memoir. Aren’t those points though, plain and simple common sense?

    • Lee Martin on September 12, 2016 at 10:32 am

      Thanks, Diane. Sometimes the simplest truths bear repeating. I imagine a number of my readers are just now coming to the genre of memoir, and I thought this post might be helpful to them.

      • Dianne Smith on September 12, 2016 at 7:40 pm

        Fair enough!

  6. Margaret Whitford on October 4, 2016 at 8:49 am

    Lee,
    This is such helpful advice. I have a tendency to defend myself or my parents when I write about us, but am learning that trying to render experience truthfully and in detail is the best way to be fair to everyone. In the end, I think we all want to be seen and understood for who we are.

    • Lee Martin on October 4, 2016 at 10:26 am

      Hi, Margaret! I love what you say about trying to render experience truthfully being the best way to be fair to everyone. That’s it, exactly! All best wishes for you and your writing. So good to see your comment.

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