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How good memoirs make a point

November 17, 2023
Posted by:
Ron Seybold

Sometimes when a memoir author starts a book, they don't know the point of their story. Memoirs are built out of personal experience, but the events need to stand for something universal. I took a fine baseball tour with my 11-year-old Little Leaguer in Stealing Home. The story stood for the faith that you can't tell what good things will appear along your path. Opening yourself to possibilities sometimes means casting off the memory of how things turned out in your past.

It helps to have an interesting experience. It's essential to write the story well.

While we create memoirs, we are looking for context to share with the reader. Context is just another word for meaning. Without context, you can put those early drafts on the page, where the story feels dull and flat. The memoir starts out as a series of things that happened to you. It might even feel self-absorbed, something I struggled with while writing Stealing Home.

The point of your memoir is not to share what happened so that other people can learn from it. Or telling a story so others don't feel alone. These are motivations, not points.

A good memoir makes an argument for something. Jennie Nash says in her book Blueprint for a Nonfiction Book that the argument can be "a belief, a way of life, a vision of the future, a way to solve a problem, a way to make a friend, or fall in love, or raise a child, or connect with your soul."

You can find your point along the way in the writing. That happened to me, and I spent years honing it. Those fourteen days on the road happened to me, but writing the book meant making room for the reader, too. "You are speaking to the reader," Nash says, "not just telling us what happened to you."

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