Writing a Captivating Memoir

“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald


A memoir is a great way for an author to share a meaningful story from his or her personal life. Here are a few tips on how to write a memoir that captures the reader and holds their attention.


First, let’s discuss what a memoir is and what it is not.


It is not an autobiography. The reader does not need, nor want, to know that it was a dark and stormy night on the eve of the author’s birth. Autobiographies cover all of those minute details and are usually written as a way to commemorate the lifetime and achievements of famous dead people. In those cases, the fan will want to read every embarrassing or salacious detail that they can about their icon, but won’t have that kind of patience for most authors who are still living and breathing.


A memoir is not the time to document all the things that happened during the lifespan of the writer. A memoir encapsulates a specific time period in the author’s life. There is usually a story here that shows where the writer experienced something profound enough that forced a change to come about in himself during the timespan that is written about, and it is told in such a way that the reader understands the hero’s journey that was involved.


Now, it’s important to understand that though a memoir is written as ‘non-fiction,’ that does not mean that certain events may not be fictionalized. Think about the family dinners you may have had with that one uncle that everyone found so fascinating even though he told the same stories over and over. Why did the fire in the barn seem to grow from being contained in the pigs’ pen to the whole building burning up? Did his fabrication make the story not happen? No. Did he make everyone laugh? Yes. They were truly interested in the way he told the story; whether or not they actually believed him is entirely not the point.


I’m not saying that writers should lie like Uncle Lester, but they should approach their memoir as any new story. Allowing himself to be so hung up on the details, can make the story feel as if it is being recited and too much detail about exact events can dull the excitement. Imbue a sense of urgency. Start with an outline. Figure out which scene from that point in time to jump into that starts the story off with a bang and keep the momentum going. Only add characters to the story that add value or conflict to what’s happening.


Remember to show us rather than tell us. This is a huge one for memoirists because they often feel they must stick to the facts and the facts are not fun. That’s not true. You must still fascinate the reader.


I hope these tips were helpful.


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