Memoir Writing Tiny Tip #4: Theme and Variations

by Matilda Butler on September 13, 2016

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #229 – Memoir Writing Tiny Tip – Matilda Butler



Tiny Tip #4 Just for You

This is the fourth in a new (irregular) series of short blog posts designed to get you to focus on just one small point. I call them Tiny Tips.

Scroll to the bottom if you are interested in how this series got started.

Case in Point:

I attended a dynamic piano duo concert featuring Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe. The program noted they are: “Known for their adrenalized performances, original compositions, and notorious music videos.”

musical notesThe concert was indeed electrifying. It was also inspiring. It provided the concept for today’s Tiny Tip #4. The third number that Anderson and Roe played was by Johannes Brahams–Variations on a Theme by Haydn, op. 56b. If you don’t know the work there is a Theme, followed by eight Variations and a Finale.

This reminded me of how often memoir writers have a series of vignettes that they want to write. What’s the best way of doing this? If there is a common theme (e.g. life lessons, growing up with three siblings, travel adventures, etc.), then consider how you might shape them into a theme and variations.

The important point here is that variations need to be different in tempo as well as in words. Taken as a whole, the variations might be: fast-paced, slow, happy, sad, light, heavy, etc. Vary the feel of each variation as well as different story details. It is through variation on the theme that the writer’s meaning comes through.

If you have written some vignettes, go back and look at them again. Do they all have the same tone? Do they sound like Johnny One Note? If so, consider today’s Tip Tip #4 — craft variations on your theme.

And that’s what you need to do.

How This Tiny Tip Series Started

The idea for a series of short writing tips came to me while reading the program notes for a chamber music concert. I realized that many (well, ok, most) of my blog articles get to be long and often require you to do certain things — like write from prompts I’ve provided. And while I will continue with this type of longer article because I think they are of real value, I realized that sometimes as writers we just want a little bit of information or a small new idea or a thought stated differently. We don’t have a lot of time.

That’s the concept behind each Tiny Tip. Just a nugget to give you something to think about as you go through your busy day.

Enjoy.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

pat davis October 10, 2016 at

I love this idea!!! Thanks so much. But then, I taught middle and high school music for 32 years. I have been teaching memoir writing to people from 15-90 years of age for the past few years since retiring. I get it! I do write in theme and variations style in my collections, but never happened to think of it that way! Pat

Matilda Butler October 10, 2016 at

Hi Pat:

Thanks so much for reading this Tiny Tip. Obviously, I’m delighted that this one spoke to you. Congratulations, by the way, on teaching memoir writing. It is wonderful that you are helping people tell their life stories.

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