Friday, July 9, 2010

Paring Those Pearls

Paring our "pearls" is one of the hardest things new writers find themselves grappling with in memoir.  "But I love that part!" writers protest when as their editor I suggest they excise a long, rambling description of their childhood home or trip to the grandparents.  Why? Because it has absolutely nothing to do with the story.

Whether it is a story about coming to terms with child abuse, grappling with illness or learning that love is not always what it's cracked up to be, memoir holds to a theme.  Like a river, it flows from good writing, sympathetic characters and a beginning, middle and end.  Characters change and grow through the evolution of realization . . . a realization they did not have at the beginning of the story.

The best memoirs are a snapshot in time of a life, not a catalogue of "I was born on this day in this month," and on and on to side trips about people, places and things that while interesting are not germane to the larger theme. Unless you are famous, you are not writing an autobiography.  Memoir is a narrower view of time - a period in your life that resonates with meaning you wish to impart to the reader.

So pare those pearls no matter how much it hurts.  That doesn't mean you have to throw them away, rather store them for another day. Who knows? They might come in handy in a personal essay or blog.
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