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Archive | Memoir Theme: the soul of your story

Theme is what you are trying to say—whether banal or sublime—beyond the facts. It is the spirit or the soul of your memoir.

Writers are sometimes stumped to answer what their theme is when asked to articulate it. This is not unusual. The theme will become more evident as you write more and more.

It determines what, within the bounds of telling the truth, what you include in your memoir.

Theme also determines how the narrator of your memoir presents the story. To support your theme, you will select one narrator or another.

Theme is closely aligned to point of view and is influenced by voice and tone.

memoir theme

Three Ways an Inauthentic Memoir Theme Will Trip You Up

As you articulate your memoir theme, ask yourself if this memoir theme is really yours—does it reflect your present understanding of your story and of life itself? Or is it a residue of the accepted “wisdom” of someone else: a parent, another adult figure, society at large?

1) A theme that is authentically yours makes for better writing.

It comes from your center of experience. Writers who recognize, acknowledge, and explore their authentic memoir themes in their writing are more apt to present us with clear, to-the-point stories than those who repeat inherited memoir themes or who think they can ignore the issue of theme.

Early in our lives, you and I were naturally and rightfully the recipients of someone else’s—a parent’s or grandparent’s—understanding and interpretation of life. As long as these interpretations correspond to our own adult views, we can write easily within their context. What often happens, however, is that we continue to espouse a point of view inherited from another without realizing that it has ceased to correspond to our own. When challenged, we will say “Well, I guess I really don’t believe that anymore. Isn’t it something how I wrote (or said) that!”

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personal memoir

Seven Reasons for Writing a More Personal Memoir

You want to write your memoir, but you resist getting too personal, going in too deep. In short, writing a more personal memoir.

Your guarded secret that you wanted to have your own business one day or your hope that your father would apologize eventually for his denigration of you—this has happened and it has had a great impact on you. Your even deeper secrets—the sexual orientation that you dared not reveal or your negative self-concept—surely this can’t be the subject of a memoir. How would you live this down? Isn’t it better to stick with the facts and dates? And aren’t these inner realities too personal to impose on others?

1) The more personal your memoir the more universal it is.

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theme in a memoir

Is Theme in a Memoir The Driving Force?

How important is theme in a memoir?

Theme in a memoir is absolutely important!

Here’s is a distinction between a family-focused autobiography and a  memoir that, I hope, will help you to appreciate the value and the role of theme in your memoir.

First: a reminder of definitions

People are always wanting to know the difference between an autobiography and a memoir. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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theme in memoir

Is theme important in memoir?

Theme influences choices for every element in the story: plot development, characterization, and setting.

Here’s the shell of a plot: your father was laid off; a difficult time followed for the family; your father received additional training and obtained a different job.

Your treatment of this plot will vary according to your theme.

Let’s suppose the following is your theme: “events whose consequences we can’t understand happen gratuitously to us in our lives, but we can always make the best of things.” In the elaboration of this particular theme (message), you will find it natural to set your father’s being laid off not only with his reaction at the time but also with its consequences. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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point of view in a memoir

Writing About Religious Beliefs in a Memoir

Writing about religious beliefs can be a quagmire for the memoir writer. How can you write about religious beliefs without sinking your memoir? The answer that I can offer you comes down to the same old suggestion: show and don’t tell.

shaping theme

Shaping Your Theme

The theme is the message—the why—of your writing.

You imbue the whole of your story with your theme and it, in turn, influences the choice of every element in your story—even when you’re not aware of it. In fact, all writing carries a message from the writer, an index of the motivation of the artist. Theme can be as broad as “There are good guys and bad guys, and you can tell them apart” and as subtle as “I want to tell others what it was like to live at a certain time of my life.”
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