Don’t De-value Your Characters

Using cliches and stereotypes will undermine the unique and personal feel of your memoir. They place people in categories. As short-hand ways of writing and speaking, they reflect ready-made thoughts and adversely affect the ways we relate to our families and friends as unique individuals.

“She was a mother-hen–you know how mothers are!”

“My father had a heart of gold.”

“Those were beautiful days when we were happy.”

These examples of cliches and stereotypes reflect ways of thinking that get in the way of seeing people as individuals and events as unique. If you think of your mother in generic terms as “a mother,” you will be weighed down with all the sentimental good and bad that second-rate movies, novels and songs sell us. Instead, strive to see her as a unique person, a woman who met the challenges of mothering as successfully as she did or could. Do the same with your father–and everyone.

And that goes for “youth” and “love” and “family” and everything else that can get sentimental really fast.

1) Beware of words and phrases that have the ring of having been heard elsewhere. If you sense that a phrase you use is not your own original pairing of two or more words and that you may have “borrowed” it, chances are you have a cliche or a stereotype dripping off the end of your pen–or popping up on the computer screen–to embarrass you later!

2) Create a language that is as fresh as you are. The challenge of writing is to have your words reflect you and your story, not someone else’s version of you and your story. By using cliches and stereotypes, you slip into someone else’s version and away from your truth.

If you are to present believable–and truthful–portraits of the people in your life, it is essential that you dispense with stereotypes and generalizations and instead focus on individual merits and traits.

Good luck writing!

For a free preview of the “Write Your First Draft” Teleclass or the “Revise and Polish” your Memoir Teleclass.


About Denis Ledoux

Denis Ledoux began helping people to turn their memories into memoirs in 1988. Denis was named Lifewriting Professional of the Year by the Association of Personal Historians in 1996. Today, Denis is a writer, educator, teacher, autobiography co-author, memoir-writing coach, editor and publisher. He directs The Memoir Network, an international group of memoir professionals who use his method and materials to help people write lifestories. Denis also offers writing tele-classes and leads memoir writing tele-groups.
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