Sometimes it’s about what goes on behind the writing.
Take my client, who wanted to write a memoir of a particular childhood holiday. She had befriended a mixed group of other children and for various reasons it had marked a turning point in her life.
She remembered it all very well. She remembered the caravan park and the countryside. She remembered their shared adventures. As she started writing, though, she realised there was one major item that she didn’t remember, and that was the kids themselves.
She remembered the basic fact of their existence; she remembered their getting alongs and their falling outs; she remembered, roughly, their spread of ages, and how many boys and girls there were. But, she had related to them with all the insight of a typical 11-year-old; which is to say, not very much. She had no idea about their inner characters; what made them tick; how they came to be on the same caravan site at the same time. She couldn’t even tell me their names.
And so, based on what little she did remember, my task was to draw up character profiles for a selection of children aged 9-11, of different classes and backgrounds, all alive in 1991. It was a lot of fun – a trip down memory lane for me as well as for her. (This is when websites like this one, giving you the top names of UK babies born in the 1980s, come in very handy.)
My client had realised what a lot of first-time authors don’t: that a story isn’t just “He did this, she did that.” It’s about the characters who populate it; their interactions; the weaving of narratives. You can’t have a story with just a couple of mains and a supporting cast of spear-carriers. (Well, you can but it’s not very interesting – not to read, and not to write.)
But, if I was making up the kids’ backgrounds, how could she add them to a true account of her own experiences?
Well, nothing I wrote contradicted her memories, and if anything did get in the way then she could always change it to make her story work. But it gave her a framework around which to weave her tale. What mattered was that she told the story of that holiday, and the effect that it had on her.
The common view of ghostwriting is that we do the writing in your name. But (as explained in our recent “What is Ghostwriting” blog) there’s much more to it than that. There are many elements bubbling away beneath the surface of the text. Some, you might find out about the hard way – like my client did as she tried to write her story. Some, you might be aware of in advance. However many you feel you need help with, that is how many we can advise on. And we’re only an email away.