Non-Fiction Prompt #12
Recall an incident from your childhood and write about it, limiting your narration to the child’s perspective, or the “Voice of Innocence.”
In Sue William Silverman’s article, “Finding Innocence and Experience: Voices in Memoir,” she describes two voices that merge in the memoir genre:
“So who, then, narrates a memoir? It’s both me and not me. It’s an artistically created ‘me’ comprised of two different voices that work in conjunction with each other: the Voice of Innocence and the Voice of Experience (labels loosely borrowed from the poet William Blake). Briefly, the Voice of Innocence describes the event. The Voice of Experience interprets and reflects upon it. Through the use of these voices, a writer maintains a cohesive narrative or story, while also journeying into the core of self-discovery. In other words, the voices used in memoir artistically craft what you’ve lived in all its dimensions.”
For today’s prompt, we’ll focus on the first voice, describing the event as it happened. Here’s an excerpt from The Glass Castle, a memoir by Jeanette Walls:
“I was on fire.
It’s my earliest memory. I was three years old, and we were living in a trailer park in a southern Arizona town whose name I never knew. I was standing on a chair in front of the stove, wearing a pink dress my grandmother had brought for me. Pink was my favorite color. The dress’s skirt stuck out like a tutu, and I liked to spin around in front of the mirror, thinking I looked like a ballerina. But at that moment, I was wearing the dress to cook hot dogs, watching them swell and bob in the boiling water as the late-morning sunlight filtered in through the trailer’s small kitchenette window.
I could hear Mom in the next room singing while she worked on one of her paintings. Juju, our black mutt, was watching me. I stabbed one of the hot dogs with a fork and bent over and offered it to him. The wiener was hot, so Juju licked at it tentatively, but when I stood up and started stirring the hot dogs again, I felt a blaze of heat on my right side. I turned to see where it was coming from and realized my dress was on fire. Frozen with fear, I watched the yellow-white flames make a ragged brown line up the pink fabric of my skirt and climb my stomach. Then the frames leaped up, reaching my face.”
The writer does not allow the adult perspective, the Voice of Experience, to enter the scene. There is no interpretation of the events; the reader is limited to the same amount of understanding that the writer had at the time of the incident. Even the vocabulary here adopts a childishness–“Pink was my favorite color”–though it doesn’t sacrifice imagery in doing so.
Details on EVENT’s 2016 annual Non-Fiction Contest.