Imagine what it would be like to live in a world without your five senses. I’m sure you’ve heard of Helen Keller. For those who have not, she was a woman born blind and deaf. Her difficulty communicating led to great frustration for her and her family. Dinner time was unbearable for all. Helen often threw food at the table. When the family hired a wise tutor, Annie Sullivan, Helen eventually had a major breakthrough. One way to help readers share your experience is by using details relevant to the time period of your memoir. You want readers to feel as if you’ve invited them to dine at your table. You don’t want to treat them like strangers.
In her memoir, Invisible Sisters, writer Jessica Handler invites the reader into her world through the use of details relevant to her childhood. I’ve listed a few which made me feel as if I was invited into her world:
- black-and-white stiff-backed photos
- a boy with hair the red-gold of tiger lilies
- sky as blue as morning glories
- a starburst corsage
- light-colored hair cut short, like nailbrushes
- dressed in Marimekko prints or floppy dashikis
- two dry white Halvah candy bars that tasted to me like chunks of sesame sawdust
- sunlight and the electric light mixed together, making a yellow glow
How have you set your table? Is it colorful? Does it look tasty? In other words, does the reader feel like a guest of honor? If you’re writing about the past, have you taken time to use specific words that help the reader travel back in time?
While writing your first draft, you may not always use the best word choice. You can always go back later and make revisions. But keep in mind that choosing words carefully will ultimately pay off for you and the reader. There’s nothing worse than a bland, tasteless meal. Check your spice cabinet and season generously!