Charm Them – by Mary Karr

However you charm people in the world, you should do so on the page.  A lot of great writers rebuke charm, and I don’t mean the word to conjure a snake charmer pulling off a trick with a poor dumb animal whose fangs have been torn out. Too many writers relate to their readers that way, which results in some dull, hermetic books written just to satisfy the artist’s preening ego. Charm is from the Latin carmen: to sing. By “charm,” I mean sing well enough to hold the reader in thrall. Whatever people like about you in the world will manifest itself on the page. What drives them crazy will keep you humble. You’ll need both sides of yourself – the beautiful and the beastly – to hold a reader’s attention.


Sadly, without a writer’s dark side on view – the pettiness and vanity and schemes – pages give off the whiff of bullshit. People may like you because you’re worm, but you can also be quick to anger or too intense. Your gift for charm and confidence hides a gift for scheming and deceit. You’re withdrawn and deep but also slightly scornful of others. A memoirist must cop to it all, which means routing out the natural ways you try to masquerade as somebody else – nicer, smarter, faster, funnier. All the good lines can’t be the memoirist’s.


– Mary Karr, “The Art of Memoir”