From Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir: Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story by Darien Gee (Watermark Publishing). Winner of the 2015 Hawai’i Book Publishers’ Ka Palapala Po’okela Award. Learn more at Darien’s website.

Because it’s possible to write many different stories about your life, it helps to choose a theme that will guide the memoir or life story you’ll be working on. One or more may appear in your writing, but it’s good to have an overall theme that propels your story forward. This will also help you later when you are deciding what to keep and what to cut.

Themes vs. Topics

People sometimes get confused with a theme versus a topic. Themes tend to be universal, with big picture implications that can apply to multiple situations or moments. Topics, on the other hand, tend to be about something specific. Another way to look at it is like this: the theme is the WHY while the topic is the WHAT.

An example: the theme is family, and the topic is Thanksgiving Dinner in 1985.

Another example: the theme is moving, and the topic is the challenge of moving with two dogs, three cats, and a potbellied pig.

Memoir Themes

Here are some memoir themes to consider (this list is regularly updated):

Abandonment
Abuse
Accepting Change
Accidents
Activism
Addiction
Adjusting to a New Life
Adoption
Anger
Appearances
Arts and Crafts
Being Gifted
Belonging
Betrayal
Bravery
Brotherhood
Bullies
Call to Hawaiʻi
Caring for the Environment
Censorship
Challenges
Change
Childhood
Coming of Age
Commitment
Communication
Community
Cooperation
Coping with Loss
Courage and Honor
Cultural Diversity
Customs and Traditions
Dance
Death and Dying
Discrimination
Diversity
Divorce
Dreams
Effects of War
Ethical Dilemmas
Euthanasia

Faith
Family
Fear
Forgiveness
Freedom
Friendship
Gender Issues
Good vs. Evil
Gratitude
Grief
Growing Up
Guilt
Handicaps
Hawaiian Heritage
Heroes
Heroism
History
Homesteading
Honesty
Hope
Humor
Identity
Immigrants or Immigration
Initiation
Innocence
Intergenerational Relationships
Intergenerational Trauma
Invincibility
Jealousy
Jobs
Leadership
Living Abroad
Living Off the Grid
Loneliness
Loss
Love
Loyalty

Making Choices
Marriage
Media
Medical Challenges
Medical Procedures
Mental Health
Morals and Values
Moving
Nature (The Great Outdoors)
Nostalgia
Patriotism
Peace
Peer Pressure
Pets
Political Issues
Poverty
Preservation
Rebirth
Relationships
Religion
Science
Secrets
Self-esteem
Separation
Social Change
Social Media
Surfing
Surgery
Survival
Taking a Stand
Teamwork
Travel
Trust
War

Memoir Themes by Darien Gee - Writing the Hawaii Memoir
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