THE QUESTION WAS SIMPLE: What is the difference between what your piece of memoir is about and the plot of that memoir? The person asking it is a client of my memoir editing services, and while I’ve heard this particular question thousands of times in the twenty years of teaching memoir, this time I heard music. Actual music. And while I briefly contemplated that madness itself has set in, I decided against that reading and went instead for metaphor. Ah, metaphor.
Music provides the perfect metaphor for the plot versus what is this about question. Let’s see if you agree when I say that while your plot is your melody – perhaps both pretty and memorable – it’s a little wispy on its own. But add some bass – the what is this about that supports the mere story – and the sound if full and rich and deep.
I tried it on my Wednesday night class last night after a student asked about the ratio of what is this about to plot, having noticed, while reading a novel, that the book he is currently reading had a different ratio of plot to about than the book he read just before this one.
Of course, I thought. It’s a different piece of music. And we talked about it, and we agreed that the music metaphor worked for him.
Writing memoir requires not merely telling me your tale, but providing a reason for me to be reading that tale – a theme, a reason – that is, if you want anyone to read it. And you do.
Not that this isn’t controversial. I actually had someone fight with me rather loudly and publicly about this not long ago while teaching at a very prestigious writing colony, when the student insisted that her memoir was about her, and that her story was a sufficient driver, and that no non-fiction needs to have an argument. In a word, she’s wrong. But she left the class, never to return. And I understand that.
This way is harder. But richer. And deeper. And more satisfying.
So get a tune in your head. And write on.