"...everything in life is writable...if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."..... Sylvia Plath

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Getting the theme across

 On this, my third major re-write of my memoir, I have tried to learn and incorporate what I feel are the most valuable ideas from authors, editors (who've read my pages), and readers (who've read my pages).  Currently, I'm reading two books on re-writing memoir: Fearless Confessions by Sue William Silverman and Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon. I'm learning a lot from both.

     William Silverman's book has focused my attention on a number of things: internal story and depth of writing, showing feelings, and emotions, using metaphor, and discovering and delineating the theme in each chapter or piece. I have only read half of her book, so I'm sure there will be much more for me to learn. But these particular issues are ones I've been grappling with for a while. So, in my re-writing, I've been going chapter by chapter and attempting to delve beneath the surface of my story text, develop appropriate and interesting metaphor, and focus on theme.

      I was particularly interested in her third chapter on theme. According to my beta reader, in one of my chapters the theme was not carefully delineated. I was all over the place. I knew what I wanted to say but was letting the story get away from me. After reading what William Silverman wrote about theme, I  analyzed the chapter in terms of focus. At times, I just sat and repeated the theme over and over. I found I had to go back and delete everything that was not slanted towards that narrow theme, which was " moving to Louisville." All that deleting was hard at first.. But as I re-wrote, the theme revealed itself more succinctly. William Silverman says "the discoveries we make during revision are a vital part of the writing process." And I can't agree more. When I realized the specific message I was trying to get across,  it made the deleting easier.

     Furthermore, as I focused on the theme, I started "slanting" the details, as she suggests, so as to reveal more about how I was actually feeling about moving. As always, I attempted the use of sensory language and the technique of showing instead of telling. It sounds so easy, and it does get somewhat easier as we remain aware of what we're trying to do, but in reality, it's not easy. And we must always be vigilant. I've already caught on to thinking of each event in my memoir as a scene, like in a movie. And that helps with the "showing." but I discovered that I was relying too heavily on just telling my story without letting the reader in on the whole picture.

     It's a slow process, but a rewarding one.

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  1. I agree with you. It's not easy. I also find that authors that I love reading do some telling, not just showing. I think we are so bombarded by the advice of "show, don't tell" that stories these days are too subtle and the message gets lost in many of them. This is my opinion. The secret is to balance the showing and the telling well, not to avoid the telling...

  2. Julia, Good comment. I think you're right about a balance between showing and telling. That's what I'm striving for.