By: Marilyn L. Davis
“We learn about ourselves by taking one footstep at a time along a road of discovery. Greek philosopher Heraclitus who lived around 500 BCE proffered cogent advice about how to acquire wisdom and achieve a proper perspective on all worldly events. ‘Whosoever wishes to know about the world must learn about it in its particular details. Knowledge is not intelligence. In searching for truth, be ready for the unexpected. The same road goes both up and down…” ―
Finding Your Theme
We tend to be like the three cars. We’re almost the same with slight variations, which will not be enough to attract a reader. Your memoir is just interesting snippets that you thought might appeal to a reader without a unifying theme. Those stories need to be part of a greater whole and provide meaningful truths, and that’s where the unifying theme comes in.
Themes are the underlying structure of your memoir. Some people isolate their theme by asking questions like:
1. What is my purpose in writing this memoir?
2. Why do I think my dominant ideas have merit for anyone else?
3. Where is the commonality in my story that will resonate with others?
4. Is my experience unique enough to be interesting but universal enough to relate?
5. Who is my anticipated reader?
6. What is this “about” besides a portion of my life?
Answering those questions help you decide on your theme. What are some wide-ranging, universally appealing themes?
- Caring for the Environment
- Cultural Diversity
- Taking a Stand
Adjusting to a New Life
- Caring for an aging parent
- Coming of Age
- Immigrants or Immigration
- Life-altering Accidents
- PTSD and mental health issues
- Overcoming a Disability
- Surviving a war
Grief and Loss
All Themes: Movement, Discovery, and Transformation
Without movement, discovery, awareness, and transformation, memoirs can get flat, reminding me of Route 16 between Macon, GA and Route 95. It’s just a road, trees, and monotonous. Don’t let that happen to your memoir. Use movement, discovery, awareness, and transformation throughout.
With each passage of your memoir, are you emotionally moving the reader towards a conclusion? When you move your reader emotionally, are you paying attention to the natural pauses in life and giving the reader a bit of breathing room?
If you’re rushing to get to the “good parts,” slow down. In those early drafts, where you’re writing all your life events for the span of your memoir, you will see which events solidify your theme. You may also discover that you need a flashback to help your reader understand and fully explore your memoir’s overall landscape.
Those detours are acceptable if they help the reader understand the back story. A good memoir balances excitement with everyday events, so the reader can absorb the lessons but is not rushed or bored.
When you discover a truth and then share it, does the reader understand the significance of the breakthrough?
- The wife who discovers the infidelity will have an understanding of odd behaviors.
- An adopted child may discover why they felt different from their siblings.
- A scientist was part of a gang until they took a class and knew they wanted to dedicate their lives to finding a way to live on Mars.
Each of these discoveries transformed these people. And it’s that transformation that appeals, even when outcomes are different for the writer and reader. The reader may be more interested in how the writer gained awareness or made changes in their lives. Sometimes, it’s the process of understanding that appeals to the reader, not what the writer found out.
If the reader gains awareness of their life situations by reading the memoir, the writer has done an excellent job. If the story is interesting as well, then the writing is engaging as well as informative.
With your selected events, are you growing in awareness, overcoming something, or changing? Are you becoming someone other than who you were in the beginning? Did you discover aspects of yourself that could be modified or enhanced to be a better person?
These transformations will keep your reader wondering, “What happens next?”
When we wonder what happens next, how you felt, and what you thought has appeal. We see you transforming and becoming someone else, and that can encourage others to make different choices in their lives, too.
Decided on Your Theme? Then Write Your Story
Memoirs span a portion of an individual’s life. While there are compelling stories in each of our lives, simply telling the stories isn’t enough since we all have the essential components – birth, early childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
Drive the Theme Home
Clearly, in my memoir, Finding North: A Woman’s Journey from Addict 2 Advocate, movement is inherent in the title. Also, the concept of discovery.
- What exactly will I find?
- Why a direction?
- Does the direction signify something?
And I’ve given readers a clue about transformation. Each of those elements – movement, discovery, and transformation will keep a reader engaged. However, we always have to remember, “The writer who develops a beautiful style but has nothing to say, represents a kind of arrested aesthetic development; he is like a pianist who acquires a brilliant technique by playing finger-exercises but never gives a concert.” ― Ayn Rand, The Romantic Manifesto
Make sure that you’re saying something that has value to you while writing, but for the reader, also.
When you’re ready to submit, we’re ready to read. Here are the guidelines.