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 Writers by 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 had an “Ask Me Anything” [AMA] on Tuesday mornings once a month. At that time, participants could literally ask Nash anything about publishing and writing and she answers them live. It was definitely worth my time.
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35 thoughts on “What’s your point in fiction or memoir? #AuthorToolboxBlogHop”
Hi Victoria Marie – parents can put you on a pedestal too … when you know you couldn't possibly be there. I hear what you're saying – I wasn't academically able at school … not sure what I'd have done with children – probably raised them well. Yet we should be encouraged … not put down, or raised too high …
Good luck with your writing … you've the experience and can pass that over to us – Memoir can be a tricky starting point … but should be reasonably easy as it's our story – on the assumption we're doing it for family …
Cheers to you – Hilary
A college education can be a wonderful tool, but as my father used to say (quoting Mark Twain, as he was wont to do) "don't let your education get in the way of your learning." Good for you for pressing forth with your dream. I went to law school at a "non-traditional" age. One of the many perks has been shutting up some of the know-it-alls for many of the same issues you have faced. Experts have advice – we can take it or leave it.
http://leelowery.com/ Sorry, I don't get how to do this part in blogger. 🙂
You are thinking so much about all this, Victoria, and learning a lot in the process. Thank you for your insights and touching on these topics of “theme”, “arc” and the point of it all. I think I might have figured out my theme and point on a personal level, but I should take your best advice of this post into account: “make the point of the memoir universal in scope”. Very helpful!
All those people probably don't have the amount of insightfulness (Is that a word? It's late.) that you have inside even one of your socks.
I'm not sure I'd have the courage to write a memoir. Congratulations on rising above what must have been a difficult period leading to college and coming up with an approach to tell your story.
I don't think I have a point to my fiction stories. If there is a point, they come about naturally in the storytelling. But non-fiction such as essays and a memoir should definitely have a point.
Sounds like you've got your memoir figured out. I love memoirs and would love to read yours. 🙂
Thanks so much for your words of encouragement, Hilary. They are greatly appreciated. Yes, children should always be encouraged in life. At least that's what I think, too. But I think my Dad was trying to save me from something he truly thought I'd struggle too much with and possibly fail at. He always said his kids do not fail. Since memoir is told as story, it can be truly difficult to craft reality into story.
As always, it's a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your week.
Thank you so much for your words of wisdom, Lee. Bravo to you for attending law school as a non-traditional. Wow! You are so brave. I love the Twain quote. I'm putting that on my computer to remember it. It is so true. A great piece of advice!
Thanks so much for your comment here at Adventures in Writing, Lee. It's appreciated more than you know. Have a great week!
Thank you so much for your kind words, Liesbet. Yes. Making your point universal in scope is the difficult part, especially in memoir. And my personal problem is overthinking everything. Bravo to you to know your theme and point on a personal level for your memoir.
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You are the best, Raimey! Thanks for your kind words. I truly need them.
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Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing! Thanks so much for kind comment. You are right. Memoirists truly need to be courageous to complete their memoir story and publish it. I'll keep writing.
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Thanks for your kind words, Chrys. I so need to hear them. I do think that non-fiction and essays require a point to keep the writer on task and to help her prove her point.
I truly appreciate your offer to read my memoir. I will keep that in mind once I get a version worth reading. Thanks so much!
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Terrific post — hard-won and well-lived experience and wisdom shared so the rest of us can apply it to ourselves!
"Memoir is a specific story about a specific person’s life and a specific arc of change that person goes through." I wish every writer trying to write a memoir would have this tattooed on their forehead (or forearm where they could see it). People, you don't need to put down every detail. We don't care. We do care about the change it made in you because we wish for our own changes to improve our lives.
Thanks for the insight.
Victoria you are amazing and don't forget it. I am constantly in awe of your bravery in sharing your own story and the ability you have to look at your own life and filter it with the eyes of a writer. Keep moving forward. I believe in you.
I second what DR said. I don't think I'd be able to write a memoir. Fiction it is for me. Somehow much safer. Way to go on pushing through.
I agree with those above, memoir is scary and I would feel to vulnerable writing it. But maybe, maybe I should.
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I've come to really enjoy memoirs in recent years, having never voluntarily read memoir in high school or college. It's interesting to think that there are still some similar processes between fiction and memoir, that there's still a sense of "character building." Thanks again for sharing your insights!
There have been times when I was haunted by something someone said in a moment of anger or thoughtlessness. It took years sometimes to come to grips with it.
I gave them and their words power and I had the ability to take it away. Most people have no idea what they do to others. If they did, they'd keep their comments to themselves.
Sharing your well thought out and kind comments are powerful as well. Telling your child they are okay as they are and ADHD only effects them while learning will do wonders for both of you. I know there is more… Baby steps.
Anna from elements of emaginette
Thank you so much for your kind words here at Adventures in Writing, Louise. I truly appreciate your comment. Have a great weekend!
And thank you for your brilliant summation of what we come to memoir for: "We wish for our own changes to improve our lives."
Thanks for your comment here at Adventures in Writing, Cheryl. It's greatly appreciated. Have a great weekend!
Ohmygosh, Erika! I can't thank you enough for your kind words. I so truly need to hear them. Thanks so much for your vote of confidence, too. I really appreciate your comment here at Adventures in Writing. Have a great weekend!
Yes, I feel fiction is safer to write than memoir, too, Kristina. You and DR are right. Memoir is very difficult to form into story because everything needs to be true.
Thanks so much for your kind words here at Adventures in Writing. Have a great weekend!
The memoirist needs to be vulnerable to help the reader see the message she is trying to make through the true story. And that's why memoir IS truly scary, Vanessa! But we all have a personal story to tell. Just try it.
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Thank you so much for your kind note, Caroliena. Yes, we use fiction elements to create the true story of memoir.
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You are so right, Anna! Words seem to hurt more than actions because they live on in our hearts. And equally right is the assumption that we can take away the sting of those words. This is the reason I watch what I say to my own children. They need to dream. My job is to help that dream come true, if I can.
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Thanks for sharing your story. Words are very powerful with the ability to hurt or change a person's view.
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing! Thanks so much for kind comment. Yes, words are extremely powerful. They truly do have the power to change lives.
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Thanks for sharing. This was very helpful and inspiring. I related so much to your story related to education because I was homeschooled. It was very informative to remind you to basically have a message and point to your story.
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Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing! Thanks so much for kind comment. It is very important to have a point in your writing. It helps focus the writer and the reader.
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