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Hemingway’s “One True Sentence” Can Save Your Memoir

How a “one true sentence” can save your memoir


I have found the “one true sentence” to be very effective in focusing both my own memoir writing and in the writing of people I have coached and edited. Hemingway’s one true sentence is an effective tool for better writing.

How a “one true sentence” works

Every piece of writing—-whether a book or a section of a book–contains a sentence that encapsulates what the piece is either trying to say or avoiding saying. This is called the “one true sentence.” Elsewhere in your story you are probably trying to maintain appearance or the public version of a lifestory but in the one true sentence truth reveals itself. Once you find that sentence in your writing, you can grasp immediately if you are on target with your writing or not.

For instance, a story that is ostensibly about how generous your mother was may contain the sentence: “My mother was always amazed at her ability to be strategic about her giving.”

Now that sentence, “My mother was always amazed at her ability to be strategic about her giving,” forces you to reevaluate your mother’s generosity. Since when is generosity “strategic!” In spite of the dozens and dozens of other sentences, this one true sentence forces you to pay attention to what you are writing. Now you have to stop and consider the nature of your mother’s generosity. You may just end up writing a new piece, one that is more faithful to what was really happening. Often these stories that spring to mind are the family-approved versions.

The one true sentence is the writer’s unconscious making an effort to tell the truth.

There are other times when the one true sentence does not force a rewriting but merely suggests strengthening what is being said.

Try reading something you have written with the one true sentence in mind. Once you find it (and it may take a while to develop the knack), the one true sentence may just provide you a new tool to invigorate your writing.

Do You Have a Story To Share But You Aren't a Writer?

We have helped many people whose lives demanded to be recorded but who themselves There is a difference between proofreading and editing.were not writers to create interesting and well-written memoirs.

We listen to you speak your story. We ask you a multitude of questions. Then we get to work writing. We come back to you with text and you make lots of corrective comments and we ask you a whole lot of new questions. Then, we go back to writing again.

Over time, your story develops into a memoir—one that you have shaped at every stage of the writing process.

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