Your Memoir: Building Character and Your Written Voice

When I begin working with you as a client, one of my first priorities will be to develop your written voice early on. It’s important to know that the voice you select will need to be consistent throughout every single piece of published writing. In other words, your first book needs to match your second, which also needs to match your blog and any guest posts.

Finding your inner voice

While your written voice will be different from your spoken one, there is definitely a lot of overlap. Your written voice could be better dubbed your inner voice. Like a fingerprint, yours will be different from others.

For starters, you might have unique ways of speaking that can help to identify your voice. As we work together, I’ll be hunting for these clues. It’s my job to select a few of these characteristics and sprinkle them throughout your book. Having said that, I’ll always protect your reputation and brand; I won’t include anything you’d prefer left off the page. And we’ll leave the “ums” and “ers” out, of course.

You’re such a character

It might surprise you to learn that you’ll become the central character of your memoir. That means you and I will need to follow the rules of writing and apply them to each person that we write about in your story. Sure, you are you, but in your book, your character will take on a life of its own.

As I perfect your voice, I will also be working on the voices of all the other main dramatis personae of your book (aka your friends, family, colleagues, etc.). It will help me if you can jot down some sample conversations you’ve had with others. Let me see how you interact with the people in your life.

Keep in mind that we will need to create plausible dialogue and embellish things a bit. Don’t worry, your readers don’t expect you to recall exactly what you said ten years ago. Instead, they want a good story. For that reason, they will give you a little creative license.

Mind your mannerisms

We all have them. Do you twirl your hair around your pencil or stroke an imaginary beard? Maybe you slap your hands against your thighs for emphasis when you speak. Including these little habits in your memoir helps lend authenticity to your character. If you have trouble spotting them, ask friends and family for their observations. Then notice their traits.

In addition, it’s good to examine the way the important people around you look at the world, how they communicate to others without words, their general mood, and anything else that makes them unique. Sharing these allows me to enrich their characters within your book.

When I’m working on a story (fiction or nonfiction), I create complete bios for the main characters. I’ll need your help to create these for your memoir. For instance, it really helps to know the month and year in which all the main players were born. This helps me track with their ages throughout the story.

It also helps to know eye color, height, weight, hair style, etc. so I don’t give your husband a buzz cut when he has a ponytail or man bun. How do they dress? Are they always in a tie and consider a polo shirt casual dress? Or perhaps that polo shirt is the only formal item in their closet.

If you’re considering hiring a ghostwriter for your memoir, and want to take a preliminary step, start building character profiles for yourself and everyone who will appear in your book. It will be such an asset to me (or whomever you hire). When we start working together, I can give you more complete instructions for helping me collect all this information, and more. Just contact me to get started!

Memoir or Autobiography or Biography?

Many people have something worthwhile to write. Their hard-won life lessons and perseverance can both inspire and instruct others. And let’s face it, their lives just make for an interesting read! If this describes your life, it might be time to consider writing a book to capture your personal story. Should you write a memoir, an autobiography, or a biography?

If you’re reading this and you’ve been fortunate enough (and skilled enough) to have climbed out of a gnarly hole and succeed in life, you really owe it to the world to share your story one way or another. People really need to hear about your journey and understand the steps you took to make it.

How do you tell this story? Well, you have a few choices. There are three basic genres for such a project: biography, autobiography and memoir.

An Autobiography or a Biography

We have all seen the biography or autobiography section in a library. These works are somewhat formal efforts to document the lives of notable people. These books proceed in a linear and orderly fashion through the life of the subject, cataloging their existence for the reader. It’s extremely accurate and factual.

If that description sounds a bit dry, that’s because the end product often is. After all, how many of us relished reading the biography or autobiography of a famous person in school? That’s probably the last one you read, right?

Still, there are times when this medium is correct. When a formal accounting of someone’s life needs to be understood, reach for a biography or autobiography. Get the facts and learn about that person.

A Memoir

A memoir reads more like a novel, written in the first person. It rarely starts with “I was born in New Haven, CT,” but rather sets you at the precipice of a key moment of the author’s life then carries you forward through a segment of the person’s life. You feel the emotions of the author, experience what they experience in a very realistic way.

Memoirs tend to be less formal than an autobiography or biography. Creative license can be exercised with caution. The dialogue you read is never completely accurate but is more of a best guess by the author. The story is still true, but certain elements are often embellished for the sake of the tale.

In addition, a memoir can document a specific event, focusing on the short term, rather than the entire life of the person. For instance, a famous band might focus a memoir around a specific tour or the recording of an album.

A good memoir strives to capture the voice of the author with authenticity. This helps the reader slip into the shoes of the subject, making it easier to live the life they lived for a few hours.

Which Is Best for You?

A person lives one moment after the next, in linear fashion, to be sure, but is that the best way to present the story? Perhaps. And should one include every detail, simply because it happened? Most likely there were a few moments of that life that were crucial, which might illuminate what made that person who they are today. And then there are mundane incidents that no reader needs to hear.

Most often I recommend that my clients write their memoirs rather than their autobiographies. It’s more popular and more riveting for the reader. However, there are times when a biography or autobiography is a better choice. It comes down to preference.

What are your thoughts? Which do you prefer to read?

If you wish to hire a ghostwriter and wonder what the cost might be, please check out my article on the subject.