5 Tips to Balance Truth and Storytelling in a Memoir

31 Oct 2023


“When it comes to memoirs, we want to catch the author in a lie. When we read fiction, we want to catch the author telling the truth.” – Tayari Jones

Writing a memoir is an exercise in baring one’s soul. After all, a memoir is an exclusive sneak peek into a world to which only a few are privy. 

When a reader picks up a memoir, they expect the author to pull back the curtain to reveal the innermost workings of a period in their life.

But does this exercise mean that authors must tell the truth and nothing but the truth?

Stay tuned because there are plenty of interesting thoughts coming up.

Why write a memoir?

In essence, people from all walks of life write a memoir because they have something to say.

There is a message burning within the author’s core. Thus, this message must find a way to surface. Memoir writing is a wonderful way to manifest a message.

Additionally, authors write a memoir because they want the world to know their side of the story. This situation often occurs when authors take part in significant events. While there may be other accounts of an event, there is always something else to be said.

That power lies within a memoir.

The world deserves to hear every side of a story.

Ultimately, one would be foolish not to take the opportunity to get their message out to the world.

Folks who feel compelled to share their message with others must not hold back. Everyone has something valuable to deliver, regardless of where they come from.

How to Write a Memoir That Captivates Readers

There is an unfortunate misconception about memoirs: Some folks believe that memoirs are generally dry accounts and recollections based on facts and figures.

While some memoirs may be unentertaining, assuming that all memoirs are dry and boring is an unfair characterization. Memoirs can be captivating and entertaining. They can provide readers with a trove of information and deliver an enjoyable literary experience.

So, is there a secret to an entertaining memoir?

In short, yes. The secret lies in the prose used to pen the accounts. Some authors opt for a humorous approach. Others prefer a solemn tone. Above all, please remember that the best memoirs tell a story. Great memoirs take readers on a journey. They do not merely recall facts and data. Outstanding memoirs paint a picture, lay out a roadmap, and set the course. The reader must then traverse the road on their way toward a meaningful lesson.

This aim is achievable when memoir writers carefully balance the truth and storytelling. The question is: “How to balance truth with storytelling?”

To answer that question, here are five great tips to balance truth and storytelling when writing a memoir.

5 Tips to Balance Truth and Storytelling in a Memoir

Let’s jump straight into the five tips to balance truth and storytelling in a memoir.

Outline a clear storyline.

A gripping memoir hinges on taking readers on a journey across a snapshot of time. This period, be it days, months, or years, must have a logical flow to it. Consequently, outlining a clear storyline allows the author to insert the details carefully, as needed. 

In other words, a great memoir is built like a novel. The difference, however, is that a novel is a construction emanating from the author’s imagination. A memoir follows a logical path based on realistic events.

Now, here is the clincher: The best memoirs have a climactic event that encapsulates the entire journey. For instance, an athlete writes a memoir to chronicle their journey to glory. Similarly, a political figure can write about their time in office, leading up to their crowning moment.

Other great memoirs use a meaningful lesson as their climax. For example, a travel memoir takes readers on the author’s journey of self-discovery. The memoir crescendos when the author finds the answers they seek.

Provide background context as needed.

The devil is in the details, or so they say. However, too many details can quickly derail interest in a memoir. Getting caught up in too many inconsequential details can negatively impact the reader’s experience. Thus, it is important to provide background context as needed.

Consider this situation:

A memoirist author writes a memoir about their experience as an immigrant. While the story itself may be riveting, readers may ask why the author chose to leave their homeland in the first place. Consequently, providing background context is necessary to explain the motivations behind the author’s motivation.

Now, here comes a delicate balancing act. How can authors provide sufficient context without going too deeply into unnecessary information? The answer is: Less is more. Memoirists must strive to provide just enough context to set the stage without taking up too much of the reader’s attention.

Stick to the facts.

Getting the facts straight builds credibility. The last thing an author wants is to be called out over non-factual or inaccurate information. Fact-checking information is crucial when putting a storyline together. For instance, keeping dates accurate ensures a smooth-flowing timeline.

Please remember that readers come to get the inside scoop. They want credible information from the key players. Consequently, authors must ensure they deliver accurate information readers can take to the bank. The dirty work involved in writing a great memoir is ensuring every fact is correct. Many folks out there want to catch an author in a lie. So, it is best to avoid giving such folks a chance to do so.

Failing to check factual information can easily derail a great memoir. Getting caught with inaccurate information can cast doubt on the overall story underpinning the narrative. As a result, authors may lose credibility altogether. 

Here is a great rule of thumb: It is best not to include information that cannot be corroborated, fact-checked, or cross-referenced. Ultimately, it is best to play it safe. Stick to the facts so the narrative can do its job.

Use creative license.

So, what about the creative license? Is there room for creativity in a memoir?


Nevertheless, there is a fine line between creative license and embellishment.

Consider this situation:

A writer highlights a specific moment in their life by stating, “I caught a fish the size of Godzilla.” 

This example shows creative license. Is it embellishment? Not really. The author uses a literary device to illustrate how big the fish was in their eyes.

Now, consider this statement:

“I single-handedly led the fundraising event to a successful outcome.” 

This statement seems like a remarkable achievement. But what if there were other people involved in the fundraiser? The statement would not only be factually inaccurate; it would be an outright lie. This type of embellishment is a surefire way to get an author in trouble.

Please bear in mind that being creative is par for the course. It adds a little extra flavor to the overall narrative. Authors can use descriptive language, or exaggerations to drive home a point, or comical language to keep a lively mood. Readers appreciate the extra effort to keep the narrative interesting but the most important thing is to keep the facts straight. Writers also owe it to readers to be forthcoming at all times.

Be authentic.

So much is said about being authentic. Writing advice is filled with such recommendations. However, balancing truth with storytelling is truly about being honest. It is painfully evident when writers pretend to be someone they are not.

How so?

Readers have this image of the author, especially when the author is a well-known figure. This situation creates an expectation in readers’ minds. So, when the narrative does not match the author’s perceived figure, readers may begin to lose interest.

Being authentic is about ensuring one’s true voice permeates every line in the narrative. Getting facts straight, providing context, and being authentic build credibility. Readers can be certain that the words on the page are a true reflection of the author’s experience, knowledge, and understanding. This combination creates a winning formula authors can rely upon.

When to Hire a Ghostwriter For a Memoir

Writing a memoir goes beyond merely jotting down recollections and stories.

It is about weaving a delicate fabric that enables readers to peek into an author’s core self.

Nevertheless, there are occasions in which authors may lack the experience or the know-how to pen a successful memoir.

That is when hiring a ghostwriter to write a memoir can become the perfect answer.

A ghostwriter is a professional who can deliver a high-quality narrative.

Moreover, an experienced ghostwriter can work with authors to capture their true voice.

As a result, a ghostwriter can become a crucial factor in building a compelling memoir.

So, the question is: “When is the right time to hire a memoir ghostwriter ?”

The answer to this question involves various factors.

There is a lack of time.

First, time is a critical element. Authors might simply not have the time to sit down and fire away at the keyboard. Authors often have to juggle many tasks at once. This situation leaves little time to sit down and write.

A ghostwriter solves this issue. 

Hiring a professional ghostwriter enables authors to focus on their core tasks while leaving the heavy lifting to their chosen ghostwriter. For instance, authors record their stories, anecdotes, and experiences in voice notes. Then, the ghostwriter’s task is to take these notes and transform them into a seamless narrative. 

Ultimately, hiring a ghostwriter ensures that authors short on time see their projects come to fruition. Please remember a ghostwriter does not write the book for the author. A ghostwriter takes the author’s ideas and transforms them into a written text.

There is trouble planning the narrative.

Inexperienced authors may struggle to plan their narrative. Hiring a ghostwriter can save a great deal of effort when this situation occurs. Designing a seamless narrative requires experience and know-how. However, novice or inexperienced authors may get stuck at some point.

A ghostwriter solves this issue.

Professional ghostwriters know how to build coherent narratives that capture an author’s true voice. From there, an author can work with their chosen ghostwriter to craft the message they want to convey.

There is a lack of progress.

What happens when a project stalls? Unfortunately, some authors start writing full steam ahead. Then, the project begins slowing down gradually until it grinds to a halt. In this situation, gaining momentum once again may seem daunting.

A ghostwriter solves this issue.

Experienced ghostwriters can literally pick up where an author has left off. A professional ghostwriter can tackle as much or as little of a writing project as needed. As a result, seeing a writing project through to the end becomes a reality when an author hires a ghostwriter to write a memoir.


Preserve your legacy

One Final Thought

A common misconception about hiring a ghostwriter is that authors do not actually write their memoirs. 

This misconception could not be further from the truth!

A ghostwriter does not “write” the memoir. A ghostwriter merely expresses an author’s thoughts and ideas in a written form. This translation process takes an abstract concept and lays it out in black and white. 

So, what does a ghostwriter do, then?

A ghostwriter is a communicator. A ghostwriter articulates words to help authors get their messages out there. 

The work of a ghostwriter becomes a valuable component in linking authors with readers. A ghostwriter is a type of bridge that joins two sides, separated by an ocean of time, effort, and expertise. Hiring a ghostwriter can be the solution when authors find themselves stuck on a memoir project. A professional ghostwriter can become an author’s most trusted companion on their memoir-writing journey.

Zach Richter 

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