How to Write a Moving Memoir

27 Oct 2020

HOW TO WRITE A MOVING MEMOIR

Many people aspire to write their own life stories. But let’s face it— not all memoirs are as engaging or moving as the author intended.

In fact, it can be difficult to write a memoir that other people actually want to read or consider insightful. Your story must be interesting enough to hold their attention.

Fortunately, there are strategies you can use to write a memoir that people will enjoy and value. In this blog, we explore what you need to know to write a moving memoir.

What Is Your Story About?

A memoir is not just an essay about the biographical details of your life. It is a curated set of real-life events that, together, form a story that you want to tell.

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that not everything that happened to you in your life should be included in your memoir. The first part of knowing what to write about is figuring out what your story is about.

Perhaps you want to write a story about the grief of losing your husband or what it’s like to be a first-time parent. Memories that are not related to telling this story don’t need to be included to further your message.

Ask yourself what you want people to take away from your book.

What Is the Theme of Your Memoir?

Next, you will want to pick out a theme. This is not always the same thing as what your story is about.

Two memoirs about divorce can have very different themes. Maybe one explores themes of self-discovery whereas another discusses the impact of loss and having to change your lifestyle.

Understanding your theme and topic can help you determine what exactly to include and focus on.

Structuring Your Memoir

There are different ways to structure your memoir. Specifically, this means going back to the basics of storytelling to discover your beginning, middle, and end.

In many ways, your memoir should be much like the plot of a novel or movie. You set the stage at the beginning, face conflict in the middle, and find some resolution in the end.

While real life may not always work out this neatly, you still should think within these parameters when structuring your memoir.

In the example of a woman who divorces her husband, the beginning might show the end of married life, the middle shows the conflict and immediate impacts of the divorce, while the end details how she overcame the situation and started a new life.

It doesn’t have to have a “happy” ending to see some kind of resolution.

Select Certain Life Events

Most of the life events that you include in your memoir should be closely related to your theme.

However, some details that you write about may not be directly related to your theme.

If you want to include a life event that provides more information about character, setting, or background, it might be appropriate to write about it. Just be sure that any life events that you include will further your purpose in some way.

Choosing the Type of Memoir You’ll Write

You will also need to decide on what kind of memoir you’ll write. The most common forms are anthology, traditional book, or essay.

Anthology

In an anthology-style memoir, you’ll write a series of unrelated stories to include in a book. The stories may not have anything to do with the other stories in the book, though they might be related by theme.

Traditional Book

A traditional book-style memoir is probably the most well-known. Much like a novel, it is a long story that is all related.

This type of memoir generally ranges from 50,000 to 100,000 words, with 80,000 words being around the average.

Some examples of this type of memoir are Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Essay

A memoir can be as short as an essay that you self-publish on your website or submit to a magazine or anthology.

Writing an Engaging Story

Once you decide what your story is about and its structure, it’s time to actually write your memoir. Here are some tips to keep in mind to create a story that is as engaging as possible.

Show Don’t Tell

In all types of good writing, it is more engaging to read a story that shows you something over simply stating it.

For instance, instead of calling a character messy, describe how the character is messy. Do they have a messy room? What kind of things are left out? This can provide readers with much more information about the character.

Avoid Defamation

When writing a memoir, it is OK to write something that is true. However, you want to be careful that you don’t accidentally or intentionally defame someone’s character by publishing things that aren’t true about them. This can leave you open to potential lawsuits.

When it comes to including real people in your memoir, be sure to stick to the facts.

Develop Your Voice

Having an authentic and captivating written voice is important when it comes to having an engaging and moving memoir.

Ideally, it should read as you really speak and have some of your personality in it. Nobody wants to read a dry and boring narration.

Practice writing to see how you can develop your own voice.

Read memoirs

The best way to prepare to write your memoir is to read well-written memoirs for inspiration.

How did other memoir writers start their stories? What information did they include? To learn, you can read critically acclaimed memoirs or ones that are similar to yours in terms of topic or structure.

Write about your senses

In a memoir, it is tempting to just write what happened. For instance, “I walked down the street to the corner market” is a factual statement that is also quite straightforward and boring.

Instead, consider adding what you saw, smelled, and heard while walking along the street.

The sentence “I walked down the trash covered street to the corner market, with bars on the window” or “I walked down the city street to the corner market, as the smells of fresh cannoli wafted in the air” are both very different experiences that provide more context and engagement than the straightforward version, even if it is technically as accurate.

Don’t start at the beginning

You don’t have to write your memoir linearly, or in the chronological order that it happened.

In general, you don’t want to start at the beginning of the chronological history, you want to start at the beginning of the story.

There are some stories that could be more compelling to tell out of their timeline to increase mystery, intrigue, or tension. It could even help to give your readers additional context to understand your story.

For example, if you write a story about 9/11, you could start with the planes crashing into the towers and go back to the events that took place earlier that day.

In the case of the memoir about life after divorce, you should start just before or after the divorce, not at the beginning of the marriage or the first few dates you spent with your now divorced husband. The backstory isn’t as engaging as the action itself.

Only include relevant details

Try not to include any irrelevant details in your memoir that will add words just for the sake of being a longer book.

Everything that you include should be relevant and necessary. Books that don’t stay on topic are difficult to read.

Remember, your memoir isn’t about you

It is important to always remember that although your memoir uses your life as a topic, your memoir isn’t really about you. It is about your readers.

Try to keep them in mind as you write and deeply consider what information they want to know. What does your audience want to read?

Editing

Editing is critical in terms of removing what isn’t necessary to ensure that your story reads as clearly as possible. You can edit your memoir on your own or hire an editor to do so for you.

There are multiple levels of editing. You may start with content editing, with feedback about the overall story. However, it’s critical that anything you write is proofread by someone else before you publish it.

Memoirs  remain a fascinating form of storytelling. Even if you don’t think you have a unique story, you probably have something interesting to write about.

A lot of memoir writing is about storytelling and less about the story.

After all, with less skillful writers, Angela’s Ashes would be a simple story about immigration and Eat, Pray, Love would be a story about a trip abroad. Both are more than that because of how these books are written.


Author
Melanie Green 
Melanie Green is a Tampa-based writer and editor, with a focus on digital marketing content. She has more than 15 years of experience writing professionally, including time spent as a full-time employee of McKinsey & Company, Nielsen, and The Business Observer. She loves to write blog posts, website pages, press releases, RFPs, and whitepapers for companies of all sizes in the United States.

She earned her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing with a concentration in screenwriting from National University in La Jolla, California, and her Bachelor of Arts in Writing from the University of Tampa in Tampa, Florida.
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