How does a memoir differ from an autobiography? That is the number one question I am asked by clients writing their first memoir.
An autobiography tells one’s life story from beginning to end. A memoir, on the other hand, explores the writer’s memory of a specific event or events that in some way has transformed their perspective and impacted their life experience. Like a novel, a memoir has a theme and is a story. Each event is linked to that theme and can be written in the past or present tense.
The theme is the backbone of a story. Staying on the theme can be particularly difficult for new writers, but without a central theme, a memoir is just a recounting of events, a story without direction. And like a long-distance hiker, as in the bestselling memoir, Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, it’s good to have a plan before proceeding on your journey. Planning will make the writing far easier. And, with a clear theme, the reader can sit back, relax, and enjoy the narrative.
It may take some time to figure out your theme if you are still considering what story you want to tell. However, once you discover the reason you want to tell the story, you will be able to clarify your theme.
There are two steps to simplify this process. First, write the introduction to your book. The introduction tells the reader what the book is about. Then, write an epilogue describing what you hope the reader gleans from the book. Whether or not you include these pieces in your final copy, by writing them, you will crystallize your ideas. Consider these two elements, the introduction, and the epilogue, as the bookends of your writing.
If you find that you have no “central point” to your book, it may be best to consider writing vignettes or short stories about your life and binding some copies for family members as a legacy or as an addition to your family’s genealogy collection. If your intent is to see your memoir in the trade marketplace, you need to have a universal theme to which your readers can relate.
For example, Transformation seems to be a common theme that’s currently flooding today’s market. This involves showing the reader how particular events guided the author to see the world, people or places in a new light. Another universal theme is “era” (i.e. Baby Boomers) which takes the reader back to a time or place that had relevance in shaping the author’s life.
If you choose the latter, here’s an important tip: When writing about a specific time and place, or notating/quoting well-known people of interest, be sure to research all the facts you choose to include. This will assure the validity of your writing.
Have questions about your writing? Contact Jasmyne through her website at jasmyneconsulting.com.