Structure: A Different Kind of Memoir

I knew from the beginning, even before writing the first chapter of This New Mountain, that AJ Jackson’s book wouldn’t be a regular biography. It would not relate every bit of AJ’s life from birth onward. Instead, the book would be a memoir, focusing on her life as a private investigator, repossesor, and process server. However, it wouldn’t be a typical memoir.

AJ has a ton of stories, but putting them into chronological order (like most biographies and memoirs) was not going to work even if she had perfect recall of specific dates. Tying them together in this way or making them flow from one to the other would have been a difficult task. In my opinion, this kind of structure would not have made for good reading. I finally decided to present AJ’s stories grouped together into themed chapters. For example:

  • Chapter 7: Sin and Survival – AJ learns to lie in order to succeed in her line of business.
  • Chapter 12: Just This Side of Catawampus – AJ deals with people and cases that are just a bit off.
  • Chapter 14: Jackrabbit Mind – AJ uses her brain, and/or temporary insanity, to get the job done.
  • Chapter 19: Spit and Vinegar – AJ looks foolish, feels foolish, and acts the fool to satisfy her clients.

The stories in chapter two through six are told in the order they happened, but grouping the rest of them by theme made strict chronological order, within the chapters or the book as a whole, impossible. That meant a story about repossessing a car using a tow truck might be included in a chapter with one in which AJ has to jimmy a lock or use a key to open a car door. Or one chapter tells how and why she stopped carrying her Colt .38, but a few chapters later the .38 surfaces again.

Though This New Mountain is not put together like a normal memoir, it is structured and ordered in a way that makes sense. The stories within each chapter are tied together. And all the chapters ultimately tie into the main theme of the book, facing one’s fear.

What do you like most about memoirs – being introduced to a different way of life or following along as a person deals with her life?

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