Memoir hangs 100% on voice.
It's hard to believe that it took me so long to discover the work of Mary Karr. Karr is professor of writing at Syracuse University and her programmes are desperately over-subscribed. Yes, she is that good.
I first discovered her memoir, The Liar's Club, when it was recommended to me by a therapist, impressed by the way Mary managed to write to candidly and yet without indulgence about her dysfunctional childhood.
As I read, sure, I was delighted to see how she tackled the subject matter, but more than anything I was blown away by her style. Here was a writer who broke the rules, finished sentences with prepositions and had a tone that was completely her own.
After The Liar's Club I headed straight for Karr non-fiction book, The Art of Memoir, and it was here that I read the words:
"Whatever people like about you in the world will manifest itself onto the page What drives them crazy will keep you humble. You’ll need both sides of yourself – the beautiful and the beastly – to hold a reader’s attention."
In other words, you have to be true to yourself, your meaning and your story and the way you write must reflect this.
I went on from The Liar's Club to read Karr's second memoir, Lit, which tells of her failed marriage, her battle with alcoholism and the jerky progression of her career as a writer. Let me give you an example of her voice, found on the page that faced me when I cracked open Lit's spine at a random place:
"By age thirty, I'm not writing squat, which I blame on my ramped-up consulting schedule, knowing full well my favorite poet was a full-time insurance exec. Warren keeps urging me to deal with my complicated family on the page, but that seems too damp-eyed, though even I know the crap I crank out referring to Homer and Virgil is pretentious before Warren carefully pens pretentious on page bottom."
You see what I mean about voice? Sure, it's about what you write about, but it also about how you say it. If you are still confused, go read Mary Karr.
Jo Parfitt's Monthly Inspirer