ALL NONFICTION IS an argument. And this includes memoir. Want to argue about it?
This week I’ll teach three different classes. There is my regular Wednesday night class that has been going on for many years. Doled out in six, eight or ten-week increments, it meets once a week for three hours, and every single week a discussion of the argument of nonfiction comes up.
Later this week, I’ll teach a once-a-month Master Class, in which eight people and I are engaged in the magnificent task of getting their books finished by June. We’re all about the argument, since every nonfiction book has one. Saturday is a session of Memoirama, that everything-you-need-to-know, multi-media, three-hour extravaganza I now produce and take on the road, in which a major part of the discussion will be — you guessed it — the argument.
You might say I argue a lot. I don’t. Well, not really.
In pretty much any piece of nonfiction, no matter its length, your argument can be reduced to one sentence. Maybe that sentence is life is better if you garden. Or that life is really hard until you get a good cat to love. Is that snickering I hear? You’ll stop snickering when you remember how many copies Marley & Me sold worldwide. Subtitled “Life and love with the world’s worst dog,” the movie version alone broke all Christmas day records with a $14.75 million opening. The book is now a franchise. What was its argument? Something like dogs teach people something about themselves that people cannot learn on their own. Or even bad dogs make people better. Or, well, you try it.
And then let’s go back to that cat who is going to improve your life, specifically that sentence about that cat, and let’s break it down by each phrase: Life. Is hard. Really hard. Unless. You get. A good cat. To love.
Well, there are your seven chapters. Don’t believe me?
Life: Who you are. Is really hard: First show us hard, then show us really hard. One chapter each. Unless: This is where you show us that you are open to alternatives. You get: This is where you show us all the things you’ve tried in order to make your life better, like speed dating, dieting, drinking heavily, perhaps. A good cat: Maybe you’ve had bad cats or good cats. Tell us. To love: Show us living with that one good cat. Maybe there is a sad ending. Or a happy one. Or a sad one turned happy when the good cat dies and you have the courage to try again with a new cat.
Simple? Maybe. Too simple? I’ve heard that argument a bazillion times, to which I can only reply: You want this writing thing to be more difficult than it already is? Why?
See a typo, a grammar flub, my (ever-present) overuse of commas? Point it out, and I’ll throw you in the pool for a monthly free book giveaway. Which book? One of mine – your choice – all of which were professionally copy edited, thank goodness.