Personal biographies, historical accounts, and first-person essays of different events are referred to as memoirs. But, what is a memoir? A memoir essay is written from memory, as the name implies. It is one of the oldest and most creative literary genres of writing; these are different from autobiographies as they focus on memories of historical and political events. The finest memoirs not only convey a compelling narrative but also reflect on some of life’s most pressing problems through the lens of human experience. Read the full blog to know more about memoir writing.
This Blog Includes:
- What is a Memoir?
- Characteristics of a Memoir
- Popular Types and Subgenres of Memoirs
- How to Start a Memoir
- Writers Should Avoid these 5 Memoir Mistakes
- Difference Between a Memoir and an Autobiography
- List of 8 Famous Memoirs Everyone Should Read at Least Once
What is a Memoir?
A memoir is a nonfiction, first-person narrative of events and memories from the author’s life. Memoirs (French for “remember” or “reminisce”) are writings that emphasize personal experience, intimacy, and emotional truth—memoir authors frequently use their recollections and actual life to make a wonderful tale. As a result, there are no formal standards for chronology or factual accuracy in memoirs. But, there are some tips on how to write memoirs, which we will discuss in more detail later.
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Characteristics of a Memoir
The narrative style must be the first consideration when considering the features of a memoir. Memoirs are nearly often written in the first-person perspective. This indicates it’s written from the standpoint of a single pronoun. Instead of “you” or “us,” the story is told from the perspective of “I.” Here are some other characteristics to think about when writing a memoir.
- It focuses on a certain topic: Memoirs may be about almost anything. Many people tend to focus on certain relationships or events, but there are no hard and fast rules to follow. A specific focus will have been achieved if the significance of the event or connection being addressed is clearly expressed, leaving one broad image in the minds of most readers.
- It brings the subject to life: When someone reads a memoir, they should feel as though they know the author intimately. It should be personal and intriguing, with essential information that can only come from the author’s point of view. The narrative should be more like a comfortable story that a spouse would tell their significant other, rather than uncomfortable small talk between strangers.
- There must be an ABC narrative arc: Memoirs must be more than merely a mix of recollections. They must follow a plot arc and have a clear overall goal that the reader can understand. Following the ABC design of storytelling is the simplest method to achieve this. The first paragraph is the introduction. It explains what the reader may expect from the tale. B is the meat of the tale, where all of the promises made in the opening are fulfilled. C is the conclusion, which neatly wraps together all that has been presented thus far.
- A good narrative: The advantage of telling a memoir is that the story is told from the writer’s point of view. Two people can witness the same incident and recall it in two very different ways. This is why, while accuracy is crucial, a memoir’s details do not have to be perfect to be successful. Instead of giving the reader a history lesson, the objective here is to give them a personal viewpoint.
- It must contain organic dialogues: When writing a memoir, this may be the hardest trait to master. When reading a discussion, there is a need to get the details right for the recollection, so the story feels more like a newspaper piece. For best results, concentrate on the thoughts and feelings that occurred throughout the discussion, avoiding adverbs wherever possible. Unless the readers are present throughout the conversation, they will not be able to tell the difference between perfectly right and partly correct dialogue.
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Popular Types and Subgenres of Memoirs
Though there is no official list of memoir subgenres, most titles will fall into one of many major categories, with lots of overlap.
Many readers like books that transport them to another time and place, either to show them what life was like in another era or to mirror their own experiences back at them. Nostalgia memoirs are those that fulfill this need.
Books that depict a difficult period in the author’s life aren’t meant to depress the reader, but rather to demonstrate triumph over adversity. The concept of restoration is nearly always present in these memoirs, with the book’s author frequently acting as the final redemptive chapter in their tale.
Celebrity memoirs have a ready-made audience eager to learn more about their heroes’ adventures. That isn’t to imply they give a constant stream of information about the author’s personal life (you can get that on social media). Rather, they record all of the pivotal moments in their rapid rise to fame and fortune, interspersed with delicious stories (ideally featuring other famous faces).
This sort of memoir is unapologetically daring. Frequently, the author reveals a painful or challenging secret — such as a problem with addiction or sexual identity — or lays their past naked, maybe shedding insight on the dynamics of a shattered family.
The author isn’t the main character in a travel memoir, it is the setting. There are no limits beyond that – this last subgenre gives up a lot of options for authors who have been bitten by the travel bug.
How to Start a Memoir
If you’re creating a memoir, you’ll want to take your readers on an incredible journey. Here are some tips for writing a great memoir:
Narrow your Focus: Your memoir should be written as if it were a collection of short stories about one or two topics from your experience. Consider a pie in which your life is the entire pie and you’re writing a book about a teeny-tiny slice.
Because your memoir is not an autobiography, you may choose your topics by creating a life timeline. We can call these “turning moments”, and it’s a useful exercise for figuring out where the juice is, where to focus, and where you could have the most to extract from your story. You want your readers to not only learn more about you and a specific event you had but also to apply their own understanding of their own experiences to your tale.
Focus on Your Account of the Story: We need to think larger in our creative pursuits even as we limit our concentration. For example, if Kamala Harris published a book about being a wife and stepmother while pursuing her profession, she would include details about how she balanced these duties while working full-time and chasing her dreams. She would share sensitive details with us, such as conflicts she might have had with her husband over the tough fine balance that women in authority with families face.
Tell the Truth: Being honest and authentic is one of the greatest ways to create a powerful memoir. This is difficult because we don’t want to hurt or offend the people we’ve included in our novels (our family and friends!). However, even if it makes your journey as an author more difficult, you must dig for the truth of your tale.
In your memoir, don’t exaggerate or misrepresent the facts. You can create composite scenes. In terms of the specifics, you may lean into what “would have been true” — your mother would have worn a certain kind of dress, your best friend would have been chewing her favourite gum, and your brother would have screamed something similar to the insult you chose to write. You don’t have to lie or embellish, but you also didn’t spend your life with a tape recorder on your hip, so the memoir is all about recreating what occurred while being true to the emotional reality of your tale.
Think like a Reader: Show, not tell, is how great writers work. And as a short story writer, this is critical to your success because you must bring your reader into your world so they may form their conclusions. The easiest method to achieve this is to bring the tale to life in front of your reader’s eyes by using vivid language that allows them to picture each scenario. You must zip the reader into your skin, according to Mary Karr, author of three autobiographies and the book “The Art of Memoir.” Another approach to thinking about it is as if you’re guiding your reader through the scenes of your life with an old-school camcorder on your shoulder. You want your reader to be right next to you, or even better, inside your experiment.
Focus on Emotions: Leave your audience gaping in amazement, laughing hysterically, or sobbing floods of grief and pity – or all three. Take them on an emotional trip that will drive them to read the next chapter, wonder about you long after they’ve finished the last page, and recommend your book to their friends and colleagues. Connecting your emotions as the protagonist with crucial reflections and takeaways about what is happening along your narrative arc is the greatest method to evoke these sentiments in your readers.
Show Growth: You must show development, change, or transformation of yourself, the protagonist of your tale, by the end of your memoir. Whatever events you recount in your book will have a greater impact if you show how they influenced you along the way, and how you developed and changed as a result of what you went through or survived. What changed your perspective on life as a result of your experiences? Do you want to change the way you think about others or yourself? In any manner, assist you in becoming a better or wiser person?
Writers Should Avoid these 5 Memoir Mistakes
Vengeful Accounts: Writing vengeful accounts to settle past scores is a bad idea for a memoir. Even if horrific events occurred, you must convey them as part of the tale and allow readers to draw their own judgments. On the page, personal grudges appear to be obvious. You must show readers what occurred to you if you want them to feel sorry for you.
Focusing on Trivial Details: You can’t name everyone you know or every place you’ve ever visited. A memoir is not a record of your complete life in chronological order. It isn’t meant to be an autobiography. It is a memory representation rather than a historical one. It focuses on a single event, or a series of events, that are linked by a common subject.
Readers aren’t expecting to be engrossed with the details of your life. This would not be tolerated even in a famous person’s life narrative. Readers are interested in learning more about the essential aspects of your narrative.
Unclear Theme: Consider this: What will my story’s audience take away from it? What will people take away from it if they read it? Accepting change, dealing with loss, overcoming addiction, surviving abuse, impressions of a period, and appreciating friendships and relationships are all common topics in memoirs.
Your memoir’s lesson/theme should be able to be stated in one line. You might add, “Losing my husband taught me how to survive,” if it’s about losing your marriage. This statement may be used to determine if every incident you wish to include in your memoir is related to this.
Not Editing Properly: Examine your story through the eyes of an editor. How can you explain and show your narrative in such a way that people are interested in reading it? You’re not keeping a personal diary. If you want to reach a larger audience, learn how to write your memoir like a novel. A well-paced plot is required for your memoir. It requires a chronology with detailed descriptions of the surroundings. You should also add some conversation.
Preaching: Readers read memoirs to learn how you faced adversity. They don’t want to listen to a lecture; they want to empathize with you. Instead of publishing a memoir, you might want to try writing a “How-To Book” if you want to advise people how to act or what they should do. When people haven’t addressed their problems, they frequently resort to this. They use their memoir as therapy!
Difference Between a Memoir and an Autobiography
Memoirs and autobiographies are frequently available on the same bookshop shelves and, as a result, are frequently confused in the minds of authors. However, we are here to inform you that they are not the same. While both are descriptions of the writer’s experiences, autobiographies often cover the writer’s whole life, detailing who, what, where, when, and why at each step in chronological sequence.
The timeline of a memoir, on the other hand, is more selective. The autobiography’s constraints are removed, enabling writers to examine a crucial event or a specific aspect of their lives in depth, letting their ideas and feelings take control of the narrative.
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List of 8 Famous Memoirs Everyone Should Read at Least Once
- Becoming by Michelle Obama
- Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
- Walden by Henry David Thoreau
- The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
- A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Bean
- A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
- Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
- Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
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Memoirs are some of the most inspiring pieces of writing in the world. They not only shed light on a specific event but also allow us to experience that event through a unique and individualistic experience. Do you want to pursue a career in writing and need some professional advice? Connect with our experts Leverage Edu shortlist the best universities and courses.