How to Write a Memoir
If you have been wondering how to write a memoir, here are a few helpful tips. A memoir is creative nonfiction, which allows a reader to step into the shoes of the author and experience their life as they did. It shouldn’t be a dry account of a series of incidents, but a passionate retelling of a personal journey.
Virginia Wolf said it best in her autobiographical essay “A Sketch of the Past”: “The reason so many memoirs fail is that they focus on the events or what happened and leave out the person to whom things happened.”
In order to accomplish the goal of putting the reader in the middle of the action, you really need to use the first person. This allows the reader to feel like the author is telling their story to them directly. Of course, I’m sure there are exceptions and it might even be possible to write a memoir in the second person, but it’s best to tell your story in the first.
Is it a memoir or an autobiography?
Some writers will tell you that you can use memoir and autobiography interchangeably. And some would shoot me for saying that. People get very passionate about the subject.
If we dissect the difference, an autobiography is usually less personal and focuses on the complete chronological life of a person, whereas a memoir focuses on a specific event or time period.
Any autobiography can be similar in feel to a biography, just written by the author as opposed to a third party. It’s often more factual and historical in nature, whereas a memoir tends to be emotional.
Although memoirs are classified as nonfiction, they follow many of the same rules as fiction. For instance, dialogue is key to a good memoir. As with a novel, the conversations between characters help move the story forward. Also, even though one writes in the first person, the writer’s axiom of show, don’t tell applies well.
Is it a memoir or a diary?
A diary is yet another style of telling your life story. One classic example is The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. It is a book that tracks a segment of someone’s life through entries written on specific dates.
The format of a journal entry, where you are really having a conversation with yourself, doesn’t often work as a memoir. Anne Frank’s diary would be an example of one that did work well (although some may say it wasn’t a memoir).
In the end, it really doesn’t matter much what you call the style of your book, as long as it communicates to others and allows them a peek into your life. Consider your message and tie that thread through the tapestry of your story. Perhaps your readers will improve their lives as a result.
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