The sentence: “By the time I was middle aged, I realized I looked like my mother.”
The idea might be interesting, but few readers (besides the client’s mother, perhaps) will want to read more. It is a fuzzy, gray blob of a sentence. There’s nothing to hold on to.
I asked the client to go deeper. We talked about the three parts of the sentence: her at middle age, the realization, and her mother’s looks. We reminded ourselves that every sentence should move the plot forward or give insight into setting or character (even, or perhaps especially, in memoir).
We focused on the writer’s obligation to honor every word.
She ended up with this.
“The morning I turned fifty, I brushed my teeth as I always did. But that day, in front of the bathroom mirror, I realized that I had my mother’s nose.
I felt cheated.
Mother spent her days in the yard or on the tennis court, never with a hat or sunglasses. Skin care meant a daily scrub with Ivory soap and a dab of Noxzema.
And while she had a fine nose, by the time she was fifty, she had the nose she deserved: enlarged pores and tiny capillaries in the creases by her cheeks.
She looked middle aged. And now, I did, too.
This was despite decades of slathering on sunscreen and seeking out shade, of avoiding the sun between eleven in the morning and three in the afternoon, and of preferring the taunts of my peers at the beach to the leathery skin in their futures. Of spending one fourth of my first paycheck on a regimen of salves and astringents and serums that promised to keep me dewy forever.
I felt cheated, and then I felt liberated.
Who the hell is looking at me, anyway? I would continue to wear sunscreen on the tennis court and add a hat in the garden, but never again would I let my vanity keep me from living life.
I have a fine nose, too.”