LOVED this quick snippet on writing from Jen Fulwiler on Conversion Diary:
Fellow writing nerds, listen up! I’ve stumbled upon something really interesting that you’re going to enjoy pondering: The critical importance of theme. The way I’ve come to see it, the theme of a story is the underlying element of it that transcends the individual events and touches on the universal human experience. Especially in memoir, it’s what takes your story from forgettable navel-gazing to an expansive story with wide appeal. For example:
- Scene 1 (no theme): Dude writes about eating a tomato.
- Scene 2 (with theme): Dude writes about eating a tomato. He explains that he grew it in his farm’s garden, and that this is an heirloom variety that would have been eaten by the farm’s original owners back in 1812. It is the evening of his 40th birthday, and he reflects on the fact that all the people who enjoyed these same tastes back in the nineteenth century are now gone, and that his own life won’t last forever. As he savors the textures and flavors and aromas of the tomato, he resolves to make the most of each day from here forward.
That’s an example from the memoir The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell. Scene 1 is how he could have written it, which would have been uninteresting; Scene 2 is how he did write it. The themes of “man reflecting on his mortality” and “the importance of savoring simple moments” animated the chapter, and elevated it from a self-centered journal entry to a moving glimpse of the universal human experience.
Fellow writers, heed my example and save yourself a lot of work: A large part of the reason that I am re-writing my book for the third time is that I had not nailed the theme the first two times around. I had not chosen one universal aspect of my experience that I would use to drive the main storyline, and the result was that I could never figure out why it kept feeling kind of flat.