Universal memoir themes

As promised a few days ago, I’d like to offer a list of universal memoir themes. Vivian Gornick, author of The Situation and the Story: The Art of the Personal Narrative, says: “Every work of literature has both a situation and a story. The situation is the context or circumstance, sometimes the plot; the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer – the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say.” The story is the work of literature’s theme. In my book: Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide Plot (situation) = the suicide of a gifted bipolar musician brings parents grief, guilt, and anger Theme (story) = 1) limits the mother has in controlling and protecting her son, 2) surviving the son’s suicide, and 3) the mother’s journey to claim her own creative powers I’ve listed below some other universal theme ideas for lifestory and memoir writers who are writing … [Read more...]

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Burning moments and magical thinking in our memoirs

It turned out that I led the memoir workshop: “Telling Healing Stories – How to Write A Compelling Memoir” on my own at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference last Friday. Thankfully I had the material prepared, so when my workshop mate didn’t show up, I just waded right in. I discussed the four aspects of all good literature: plot, theme, structure, and voice and gave the group a list of universal themes (which I’ll discuss in a future post). I also explained how the plot is made up of a series of events – or as they have been called – burning moments. For example, the disposition of clothes and possessions of a loved one who has died is a huge burning moment. In one of my favorite memoirs, The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion describes in meticulous detail the items in the plastic bag she brings home from the hospital after her husband died. She says, “…I remember combining the cash that had been in his pocket with the cash in my own bag, smoothing the bills, taking spe … [Read more...]

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