A memoir is a slice of your life — a day, a weekend, a year, 10 years — a portion that has a theme. That makes you the main character, the protagonist. However, the theme of your story — the reason you are writing it — is not you.You are simply the manifestation or vehicle for the theme. Your personal experiences illustrate the theme. Does that make sense?
I know a lot of people would say that the memoir genre is about people. Yes, but it’s more than that. I think a more accurate description of memoir is it’s about the 3 L’s — life, living and learning. Memoirs are made up of life’s ups and downs, successes and failures, dreams and tragedies. We can learn something about ourselves and our own lives from reading a good memoir.
Discovering Your Theme
Memoirs need a universal theme to appeal to readers. Themes like abuse, divorce, travel, coming of age, addiction, a death, war, disease, physical challenge, spiritual discovery, etc… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Agents, editors and publishers need a good, clear picture of theme. “The Elevator Pitch” is a very short description — 3 or 4 sentences is great — that tells them what the book is about. It needs to be specific and intriguing. You can’t just answer, “It’ about my life”. *yawn*
Sometimes you don’t realize what your theme is until you are writing it or have written it. Writing can bring things to light that we didn’t specifically plan to include or even realize. Many published memoirists have said they thought their book would be about “x” but when they were writing it, they realized it was really about “y”.
You Won’t Get Lost in the Crowd, if…
Although each memoir has a universal theme, the specifics, the details are not the same. Because every person is an individual, they have their own thoughts, feelings, perspectives and ways of dealing (or not dealing) with a situation. But, because it has a universal theme, readers can relate.
The stories and details of each memoir are different. That’s what distinguishes them from all the other memoirs on the same topic. Spend time honing the craft of storytelling and you will stand out from the crowd.