What is the Gist of Your Story? #4
A sound premise and compelling themes are undoubtedly the hallmarks of great writing. In another addition to the series on literary themes and premise, I’d like you to join me in welcoming Kathleen Pooler.
Kathy is a writer and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner who is working on a memoir about how the power of hope through her faith in God has helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments: divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories. One of her stories, The Stone on the Shore, is published in the anthology: The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys From Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment, by Pat LaPointe. Kathleen blogs weekly at her Memoir Writer’s Journey blog and can be found on Twitter @kathypooler and on LinkedIn,Google+, Goodreads and Facebook.
Kathy on her work-in-progress memoir
If I stacked up the pages of book summaries along with the chapters I have written over the past three years, I’m convinced the pile would hit the ceiling. The main message or theme of my work-in-progress memoir has changed that many times. In fact, the more I wrote, the more it changed because the story unfolded as I wrote. It revealed itself and all I had to do is show up and trust in the process. I also did use some specific techniques along the way to hone in on my story and its main message: outlining, storyboarding, drawing mandalas, writing classes and exercises. The story I started out writing three years ago has unfolded into a completely different story.
When I submitted my first draft manuscript to Manuscript Consultant, Dale Griffiths Stamos in October, 2012, she immediately identified that I had two memoirs. My first w.i.p. memoir is currently in Dale’s hands for a first revision review. The working title is Choice and Chances: My Jagged Journey to Self. I’m aiming for mainstream publication and I’m willing to take the time I need to write it right. No doubt, it will go under the knife in some areas and will need resuscitation in other areas.
The themes and premise of Kathy’s memoir
After many rewrites, I finally found my theme and I’d like to share some lessons I have learned about finding the gist of my story:
- Connect with your purpose for writing - once you discover the reason you want to tell your story, your theme becomes clear: We all have a story within but not everybody wants to share their story in writing. When I looked around at the life of joy and peace I was living, I realized I wanted to share my hope with others—no matter how difficult your life challenges may be, there is hope in new beginnings. I feel very connected to that core message as I write.
- Define what’s in it for the reader - how can my experiences help the reader understand theirs? My story has to be worth my reader’s time and attention so it is up to me to invest in being clear on my message and how I will deliver it. How I shape my story using specific techniques beyond citing life events will either invite my reader along in my journey or have them putting my book down to engage in other activities such as laundry, cleaning the house, going to the gym, etc.
- Define what your story is about - be able to relay it in the form of a question that the story has to answer (here’s mine): How does a young woman who came from a loving, stable family make so many wrong choices when it came to love that she ended up having to flee with her children from an abusive marriage?
- Define the theme and sub-themes, also called threads that drive your story - this will help you set up the conflict and tension that will move your story along:
- PREMISE: For every choice you make, there is a chance you take. Finding your voice will help you make healthy choices that give you better chances for happiness in life.
- MAIN THEMES: Love, Choices, Finding Voice, Hope.
- SUB-THEMES (THREADS): Roots- the roots that do not seem to prepare the main character for the real world become the anchors in finding voice. Traditional Values vs Career- conflicts set against the culture of the times ( 60s and 70s). Faith- superficial and sporadic; Catholic faith both stymies and supports choices. Codependency/Alcoholic Spouse- consequences of not setting healthy boundaries- divorce, single-parenting, abuse. Empowerment- finding voice to take charge of choices and improve chances for happiness.
- Weave the threads throughout each chapter - make sure they tie back to the main question: This is where the phrase “kill your darlings” comes into play. If the scenes do not feed into the main theme, they have to go. The main question becomes your guiding light.
- Go with the flow and trust in the process of telling your story - show up, write and be open to what the story wants to tell you: Now that I have my themes and threads and have shaped my slice of life into a story, I will work on polishing and refining it using my main question as my guiding light.
Here is an excellent post on theme of memoir by Brooke Warner of SheWritesPress which includes a link to The National Association of Memoir Writers roundtable discussion podcast with Linda Joy Myers.
Remember, effective book publicity relies on strong promotional messages, which are extracted from the themes contained in your writing that, collectively, make up the premise of the story.
Promotional opportunities for Kathy’s book
Since my premise is about finding your voice so that better choices can lead to improved chances for happiness, promotional activities will center around people who have suffered the consequences of not finding or honoring their voices, with a focus on the alcoholic spouse, abuse, divorce and single-parenting. As a woman, I speak from a women’s point of view but do not intend to exclude men from my target audience. Underlying any discussions would be the power of hope to overcome difficulties and find happiness.
Potential community groups to speak to
- High schools to address responsible life choices with teens.
- Alanon to discuss self-awareness about co-dependency.
- Single Parent groups to discuss parenting and relationship issues.
- Church groups to address the role of faith in making choices.
- Domestic Violence Shelters to address the battered spouse syndrome and cycle of abuse.
Join me as I discuss the need for compelling themes and a sound premise with published and newbie authors over the next few months. If you want to participate as a guest blogger in this series, please do not hesitate to contact me for details. You can also participate by leaving a comment for Kathy below.