by Jerry Waxler
After reading Beth Kephart’s “Slant of Sun,” I kept finding more reasons to like it. Here are two more that can be used not only to appreciate her memoir but to give you tips to enhance your own.
Astoundingly cool word choice, and language arts.
I can’t say for sure why I fell so hard in love with Beth Kephart’s memoir “Slant of Sun” but certainly her language arts played an important role. How do you pick just the right word, or as the French say “Le mot juste.” (And while I’m thinking of it, why do the French have a phrase for everything?) Anyway, picking fabulous words seems to be a knack that has helped Beth Kephart convey her inner reality to her readers. And isn’t that exactly the challenge? We need to find the right words to tell our story, but which words?
Consider these examples:
“If I now walk the house at midnight among the tittering gossip of my obligations and fears, I also walk beneath a child’s artful dreaming.” Pg 29
Referring to the roots she has worked to develop for so long, she says, “And yet — finally sprouted with family — I have found myself longing for wind. Ungraciously longing to be swept sparse and stemless through the storm of the sky, to be dropped down rootless in a place I cannot name.” Pg 104
I know it’s not easy to develop this knack, but a book like “Slant of Sun” renew my determination to increase the freshness of my language arts. (By the way, the title itself is a double entendre (another French expression!) “Slant of Sun” and “Slant of Son.”)
Sometimes when writing in my journal, a turn of phrase pops out. I usually dismiss it as too outlandish for ordinary discourse. Thanks to Kephart’s example, I see that well-controlled flights of word play can embellish prose and make it more exciting and entertaining. Consider looking at your own turns of phrase with the kind of freedom she does. What, if any of them, could be used in your outward facing material to offer the reader a fresh way to think about your situation. (Also, consider taking a poetry course to vitalize your relationship with words.)
Techniques: Pacing and suspense
Typically we associate suspense with thrillers or murder mysteries, but this emotion is crucial in all stories, which must draw the reader from page to page with a sense of anticipation. In many scenes in “Slant of Sun,” I feel an edgy concern to know what is going to happen next. I hear a door slam or a train go by, or Mom commands Jeremy to sit still while she tells him just one story. I worry how he will respond. What if her story can’t pull him away from his obsessions. What if he panics? She has turned her relationship with her son into a psychological thriller. To find the answer, I must turn the page.
Suspense is one of the fundamental emotions of drama, and so as you develop your story, look for ways to play with suspense the way Kephart does. Pick a scene, and instead of jumping right to the outcome, build up to it. Remember how you felt while you were still worried, still anticipating. Did you discuss your fears with other people, or muse about the possibilities? Pause, anticipate, feel heart racing. Note the tension. Let my heart pound, too.
In following blog posts I will continue the list of lessons that I drew from Slant of Sun and offer suggestions for you, as well.
Here are links to all the parts of my multi-part review of “Slant of Sun” by Beth Kephart and an interview with the author:
More memoir writing resources
To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.
To order my short, step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.