In my last post, Memoir Writing | Telling the Truth in Your Memoir, I talked about never outright lying or making things up, but how memory is subjective. If you are true to yourself and your memory, you will be fine. This week, I want to talk about how much truth you need to have in your memoir — or more importantly — what to leave out.
When talking about descriptive writing, it doesn’t mean quantity of details described in a scene but rather, describing the details that are important to your story — moving it along. You could spend a chapter describing great-aunt Matilda’s living room that one Thanksgiving day — down to the pee-pee mark the dog left on the white carpet. Just because it happened and it’s true doesn’t mean it has to be included if it’s not important to the story. Truth for the sake of truth will not endear you to your readers.
“It’s the truth and/or an undeniable fact!” some would say.
Ahhh, but is it important to the story — does it keep things moving along?
Think about yourself as a reader for a moment. Would you read page after page of beautiful, descriptive prose if it’s not important to the theme, plot or story arc? Likely, you would end up falling asleep in your reading chair or losing interest after yet another detailed furniture piece description.
Editing Your Life
When you begin writing, just write. It’s important to get it all down so that you have a first draft. Then, go back and you can start to get a sense of your story, what’s important, what’s not, is there a theme? You don’t and probably won’t have to have all these answers up front. Just write.
After you have a complete first draft, you can go back and begin to edit. Choosing what to keep and what to give up in your story can seem hard at first. Everything happened (the truth) but is it important enough to include in your final version?
Think of a joke — yes a joke. It has a beginning, middle and end referred to as the opening, the set up and the punch line. See the correlation? Jokes are usually short so the comedian won’t lose his audience before the punchline finish and the laughter. They have to stay on track and the details included are all important to the end or the punchline — to illicit the all important laugh.
So you sit down to re-read your first draft. You come to a scene that took place at a department store. You have included all the details. But, are all the details included important to the story?
Is it important that the clerk’s name was Sally? If not, leave it out.
Is it important that the lady in front of you was wearing a pink and purple dotted dress? If so, leave it in.
If it’s fluff that adds nothing to the overall story, remove it. It doesn’t matter that it happened — it’s the truth. You will quickly lose a reader in a book or essay that is filled with fluff details that have nothing to do with your theme or story arc.
Now, start writing! You can’t edit what you haven’t written!