A memoir is a focused story about a theme—a topic, an angle the story will take to show important changes in the protagonist—you—and the reason that the story is being told. As you may have guessed, Part 2 of my 3-Part series on How to Write a Powerful Memoir, will focus on the importance of theme in memoir.
When we start writing, we often don’t know our theme, we are still marinating in the memories and details of our stories. When we explore the turning point moments and muse again about why we are writing a memoir, theme begins to rise up like mountains at the edge of the plains. This is often an unconscious process, and we need to write some stories before theme becomes clearer.
An example of theme: Lit, by Mary Karr, is the third volume of her trilogy of memoirs. This last book is about her descent into and her recovery from alcoholism through finding religion. It’s about many other things too—her early literary life, her husband, son, and friends who helped her. It’s about her mother and her family and her deeper reflections on material she wrote in The Liar’s Club. But the arc of the story takes us from her being lost in using alcohol to numb herself, to becoming sober and finding herself again.
Most of you know that Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes is about his poverty stricken childhood in Limerick, Ireland. The arc of his story begins with his earliest memories and ends with his leaving his home to come to New York. There are other themes and topics too—the Catholic Church, death, his mother Angela, his abandoning father, and dying, starving siblings. If you look at the book in terms of turning points, you will see that he includes what he considers significant events that shift the plot into new directions, each one adding force and direction to the trajectory of the story.
I look forward to sharing more with you about How to Write a Powerful Memoir. Be sure to watch for my next article on Plot and read part 1 of this 3 part series, which focuses on Theme in Memoir. Each of these elements will help you better understand How to Write a Powerful Memoir.