Memoir Summary December 12, 2019

Memoir Writing

What is a memoir?  A memoir is more than an autobiography or record of what you did or what happened to you over the course of your life. An

autobiography is a broad look at your life. Think of a theme as “What this book is about,” or “What holds these stories together.”

In contrast, a memoir is a slice of your life, it draws on selected stories from you life that you have chosen because you want to talk about a particular theme of your life and make a point.

For instance,

  • you might like to write about your childhood years and the people and events that formed the adult you became.
  • you might like to discuss your life through the lens of traveling. What particular places had the greatest influence or effect on you?
  • you may want to tell the story of a particular relationship in your life, perhaps how it came to be and how it changed you.
  • you may want to discuss a trauma and its impact.
  • you may want to tell your story as it relates to family traditions, perhaps through a calendar year. 

How do you get started, and then get going?

1.Choose your theme. Do you want to talk about change, about formation, about growth, about learning in non-formal ways, about being loved and its impact, about not understanding love until ???, about building a career, or about the impact of someone/something on your life, for instance.

2.Then choose your stories. Make a long list of lots of possibilities. Then whittle it down to the stories that will help you develop your theme.

3.Write it like a piece of fiction or novel told in the first person. That means pay attention to story-telling principles.

Draw your reader in with your first page and chapter

  • Make them care about this person – you
  • Use language as paint – show what happened. Be careful not to fall back into just telling a story.
  1. For instance, The first house, after an apartment at the top of a narrow stairway I always walked holding on to someone’s hand, I remember needed a full indoor bathroom. I know it had to have had some kind of heat in that bathroom, but I dreaded winter baths when I stepped into the tub to get rid of my goosebumps.
  2. Instead of telling simply, something like this: The first house I remember after we moved out of an apartment was a fixer-upper in the country.

4. Build your story to a climax, showing how you experienced conflicts that had to be overcome, smaller ones initially, but a fairly significant one near the end that relates clearly to your theme.

5. Tell the truth! Well, not always. In a memoir, you may change names or even conflate or make several characters into one to make a point.

  • I am reading a memoir now in which the writer speaks of having several counselors, but she is going to use a single name for all of them, since in her estimation, they were equally useless ultimately.
  • If you choose to change a name or more, of a person or town, be sure that you have acknowledged that in the front matter of the book.
  • You may not lie about things to inflate your story.

Types of Nonfiction

  1.   Literary Nonfiction: Nonfiction that reads like fiction. It uses elements of fiction, but the characters, events, setting and plot are real. Normally literary nonfiction is written with special attention paid to the writing. The author is interested in more than telling a story. There is real intention in the selection of, in my own words, beautiful language.

         2. Informative Nonfiction could be best understood as an informative article or book designed to provide information, not necessarily to read as a narrative.

          3. Historical Nonfiction: What is it?

          Historical nonfiction means that what is being written is fact-based and an exercise in imagination. Subjects of historical nonfiction include real events and people that are well-researched and describe in detail the author’s chosen subjects. Examples of historical nonfiction include Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown, and 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.

Go to the following site for more information:

4. Writing about someone else. You can find an excellent tool at

Here is Marion’s Punch List for Writing About Someone Else

  • Discuss your topic
  • Decide on a narrator
  • Establish what you need to know
  • Do your interviews
  • Expect to learn things you never expected to learn
  • Check the facts
  • Feed and care for your notes
  • Experiment with voice
  • Write

In general, you are the narrator telling the story of your family, particular relatives, or people that you believe will have an impact on the reader.

Begin by noting what you do know and what motivates you to explore this person or people.

Develop a list of things you do not know and will ask about or research.

Remember that people live in a historical, political and social context, so find out how those things affect your subject(s)

Well, that summarizes memoir writing. But you can review the work we have done in the notes previously posted. have a great break and keep writing!

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