Perfection is Deadly, but Forbidden Confessions Enliven Memoir

Here we go again with the never-ending sequence of blogs about Megyn Kelly’s memoir, Settle for More. (see this one and that one) I promise this will be the last, but I have to comment on the mistake of subtracting the drama from memoir.

I read the last third of the book and found to my surprise that at the end she has tacked on a chapter about how Roger Ailes sexually harrassed her in increasingly threatening ways throughout her first few years at Fox News. I’m so angry at Kelly for the way she structured this memoir, I could just spit.

Life has drama–don’t subtract it from your memoir

She basically eviscerated her own story, robbing it of the drama that was rightfully there, and in the process made a great and suspenseful story into a boring, preachy one.

I was enjoying the book until the part where she got her dream job at Fox News, her dream husband, and her life became so peachy keen you can barely stand it. Note to memoir writers out there. Nobody wants to read about how your life is perfect and you’re the hero of everything.

A: It’s a lie. Nobody’s life is perfect, and if you say it is, you’re untrustworthy and people won’t believe the rest of your book, either.

B: Conflict is what makes any story interesting, and the minute your life has no conflict, the book is a dud.

C: Everybody hates perfect people.

As it turned out (which Kelly reveals at the very end of the book) her life during that period of time was FAR from perfect. The truth of the matter was that the price Kelly had to pay for this amazing job was dealing with Ailes’ sexual harrassment and staying silent. The price we readers have to pay is a boring memoir where the writer has subtracted the drama.

Life-wise, Kelly’s situation was terrible. Book-wise, though, her situation creates great drama. Unfortunately, she didn’t heed this advice: Don’t Subtract the Drama.

Memoir should revel in conflict, both internal and external

Dealing with sexual harassment on the job is a high price and a humiliating situation for a woman like Megyn who prides herself on being powerful. Additionally, she faced the internal conflict of whether or not she should speak to her new husband about the harrassment.

She didn’t want to upset him, but she needed support. Finally, she faced a moral dilemma: should she risk her position at Fox by speaking out, in case other women were also being harrassed? Was it selfish of her to stay silent?

These internal, external, and moral conflicts, if included in the story, would have made Settle for More a suspenseful and intriguing, unputdownable read. If I had been the memoir ghostwriter working on this, I would have written it so that readers saw the true complexity of her life as it unfolded, not tucked into a brief mention at the very end. If Kelly were my client, I would have told her: don’t subtract the drama; instead, exploit it to make the book un-put-downable.

Subject-based chapters can strip drama from the narrative

Kelly structured the book so that it segmented her life into chapters about the different topics: “my childhood” then “my marriage” then “my first show on Fox” then “my conflict with Trump” then “Ailes’ sexual harrassment.” In so doing, she removed the real drama from her story.

I suspect she did this so that with just the one chapter dealing with sexual harrassment, she didn’t drag the topic through the book and seem like a whiner. After all, she spends her whole book talking about how she’s tough and not a whiner.

However, relegating the sexual harassment issue to the last chapter of the book is another way of covering up for the aggressor. It also cheats her out of a better story.

Let your memoir show you, warts and all.

This is an issue I come up against quite a bit when working with memoir ghostwriting clients–they want to cover up the bad things. DON’T! The bad things are the juiciest part of the story.

If you want people to read your memoir, you’ve got to keep the conflicts in there. Yeah, even if they make you look bad.

After all, what really makes you look good in a memoir is your willingness to show the true story, warts and all. Deleting a huge conflict from the story, only to reveal what was really going on the whole time in the last chapter, is a total cop out. It is.

The fact that Kelly structured her book that way is, no doubt, the reason I almost gave this book away twice before I actually finished it. All along, I felt like something was being whitewashed.

I was right, and I felt kind of insulted at the end when she finally revealed she had been lying by omission all along.

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