Memoirist Looks at Message

by Matilda Butler on January 9, 2013

catnav-alchemy-activePost #68 – Memoir and Fiction, Writing Alchemy – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

What Is Your Message?

Last week, I explored the topic of memoir writing and theme. We don’t just write. We write within a theme and message. As I mentioned last time, theme is the universal. It isn’t specific to our story but is something broader that everyone can relate to. Your readers will not have had your life but they have had similar types of experiences. For example, a theme might be success, travel, spiritual experience, coming of age, illness, abuse, life lessons, etc. Your theme sets the boundaries of your memoir. You can write more than one memoir so there is no reason to try to throw it all into a single story.

greeting card message for memoir, memoir writingBut what about the message? In memoir writing, the message is unique to you. It is what you want your reader to walk away with. It is your take on life. It is your thinking about your life that goes beyond the particulars of the story you relate. One person might tell the story of having breast cancer and have a message that it is a scary and lonely journey. Another person might have breast cancer and have a message that fear of the disease is worse than actually dealing with it. A third person might have breast cancer and have a message about the importance of faith in getting through the treatments. Each of these messages is specific to the individual writing the memoir.

memoir message, writingKendra and I cover the topic of theme and message in our new book, Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep. So for this blog post, I wanted to find a different perspective that would help you to both understand and to think about the topic in a new way. By now you’ve probably guessed. I drove to my nearby card store and browsed through them.

Discovering the themes of greeting cards is easy. They are stated in bold above the shelves: Birthday Humorous, Birthday Children, Birthday Serious, Sympathy, Wedding, Friendship, Birth, Retirement and the list goes on. The messages, however, are specific to the individual card. For example:

memoir message, memoir theme and message

THEME: Birthday

MESSAGE

I hope we’re always friends…
… because you know way to much about me.

MESSAGE

This is going to be your best birthday ever. I can feel it…
…Oh wait. That was my cell. I had it on vibrate. But I still think your birthday’s going to be pretty special.

MESSAGE

Another birthday is here and yet you don’t look any older…
…Uh. You do know how this aging thing works, don’t you?

MESSAGE

Sometimes the nicest thing about a birthday card…
…is the person holding it.

Glittery shoe on cover of card.
Inside:
MESSAGE

Step into another year of being fabulously you.

MESSAGE

Birthdays are good for you…
…Statistics show that people who have the most live the longest.

MESSAGE

Growing old is mandatory…
…growing up is optional.

MESSAGE

Age is strictly a case of mind over matter…
…If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

THEME: Encouragement and Support

MESSAGE

The roller coaster of life can sure take you for some crazy wild rides…
…but hang on cause everything’s gonna be all right.

MESSAGE

Everything happens for a reason…
…Usually it’s because life sucks. Be strong!

THEME: Retirement

MESSAGE

Leave if you must, but remember one thing…
…We only make fun of people who aren’t here to defend themselves.

THEME: Loss of Spouse

MESSAGE

On the loss of your wife…
Sorry does not last forever, but memories do and so does love.

writing memoir, memoir theme and messageMemoir Writing Exercise:

1. By now you should know the theme of your memoir. Remember this is an overall theme for your entire book. For example, if your theme is that of “Loss” your readers will think, “Yes, I’ve had loss in my life. How did she deal with it?” Now, think about the specific message you want readers to take away. Your readers might be your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Your readers might be a more general group. Imagine that some of your potential readers are sitting in the room with you. When they leave the room, what do you especially want them to remember? If your theme is “Loss.” then your message might be “Look for ways to help others through their time of loss.” Or, your message might be “Seek a spiritual life to gain calm in your life.” Whatever the message, it is your perspective on the theme. There is no right or wrong message — just your message. Write down your message.

2. Keep your theme and message written on a piece of paper that is taped to the wall near your computer or work area or keep it on your desk lamp or other place where you see it often. You may change the message over time. You might even decide to change your theme and you get deeper into your story. But once you understand this pair, keep them in mind as you write. Don’t take your readers down a false path. Stay true to the theme and message.

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