What’s your point? How often do we find ourselves asking this of a show we are watching, a lecture we’re listening to, or even of a friend’s anecdote?
The point of a piece of writing could be considered a theme or an idea you are trying to put forward. All writing needs a focused point to help guide the reader, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.
I recently read a wonderful guest post on Writers Helping Writersby Daeus Lamb in which he offers a distinction between theme and the point of your story. Lamb posits that theme is the “moral topic” of your story and a “message is the point” you are trying to “make about that theme.”
I don’t think it really matters what you call it so long as you do in fact have a point to your story or essay. And nowhere is this more important than in memoir.
Remember that memoir is told as a story. It’s one thin slice of life, one arc of transformation for the protagonist—the person writing the memoir story—as Jennie Nash ofAuthor Accelerator likes to say. The writer needs to step back and look at herself as a character and actually put herself through that arc of change for the reader.
How does she do this? By carefully selecting specific events from this certain time in her life and making sure the change is shown on the page through these experiences for the reader to understand. Readers need to be in the socks of the protagonist, experiencing this specific arc of change along with the protagonist.
But which events from that specific time in life do you choose to include in the memoir? This is where the point of your story comes into play. The memoirist chooses the real events that prove the point of the memoir story.
Make no mistake. Finding the point of a story in the beginning when you are trying to write forward is extremely difficult. I’ve been playing with the point of my memoir about attending college as a mother of five for about two years now.
I believe the point of my memoir is not to allow my world to be colored by how others see me. We shouldn’t give those around us permission to influence our feelings about ourselves. We need to dream. And then go after that dream and learn from our failures.
My father said I was not college material when I tried to sign up for the college prep track in high school.
My children’s school teachers/counselors/special education department said they knew more than I did and therefore I should listen to their instructions on how to raise and educate my children when they faltered academically; specifically, my special needs daughter.
The doctor and the neurologist knew what I should do to deal with my special needs daughter’s ADHD and her social and learning problems.
A few community college profs seemed to talk down to me, a mother who didn’t know higher level math or science, didn’t know literature, didn’t know psychology. [As I said, no college prep foundation.]
A few Ivy League profs decided they were wholly better than I and told me I was wrong in my views—again and again.
Even some of the Ivy League students thought they were better than I, especially in the higher level courses. After all, I was an older college student, not someone who earned the right to be at the Ivy League right out of high school.
The events once I began my college journey furthered my inferiority complex, making me feel like an imposter. My misbelief was that college was not for people like me; someone from a blue collar family who struggled in school. I was a nontraditional college student, one who didn’t attend college right out of high school.
The point is I gave these people permission to influence how I felt about myself. I didn’t have the needed confidence to understand that anyone could have a “know-it-all” prof or come across students who felt they were better than others. I did this because I felt they were all smarter than I was. After all, they went to college right out of high school.
*Please offer any insight or comments you may have about this. Thank you!*
Memoir is a specific story about a specific person’s life and a specific arc of change that person goes through. But the writer needs to elevate that personal story beyond one person’s experience. She needs to elevate the story to become a universal story about how someone can overcome the circumstances she finds herself in; in other words, make the point of the memoir universal in scope. The writer needs to think of the protagonist’s situation with her eye on the horizon, looking ahead for what it all means.
I’d like to thank Jennie Nash for helping me understand this concept. Nash has an “Ask Me Anything” [AMA] on one Tuesday morning [Pacific Time] a month. At that time, participants may literally ask Nash anything about publishing and writing and she answers them live. It’s free. Her calendar may be found here. It’s definitely worth your time.
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