Have you been told by friends and family that you really should write a book, given your life experiences? Have you been through a remarkable event or series of events and you’re ready to write it down? Whatever your motivation for writing a memoir, here are a few things to keep in mind before you get started.
First, a memoir is not an autobiography. Nobody wants to read the life story of a stranger; leave the autobiographies to the celebrities. But lots of people are interested in memoir. A memoir is about a specific event in your long life, or a theme in your life—keep it focused.
Second, keep to your theme. Whatever event or theme you are writing about, make sure you stick to that theme. It’s easy to wander off in different directions, but for every character and scene you introduce, ask yourself, how does this character or scene relate to the broader theme I am telling?
Third, add dialogue. I read many memoir drafts from beginning writers that don’t contain a line of dialogue, or have so little dialogue scattered throughout that the characters might as well not even exist. Don’t tell us what a character said, have the character say it. And have all your characters speak. A character we only know from description and never hear utter a word is not a character we’ll remember, much less care about.
Finally, remember your setting. Let’s see and hear and smell the places you write about. If you’re writing about where you grew up, tell us something about it—what did it look like? What do you remember about it? How has it changed over the years? As you move from one place to the next in your story, what are these new places like? Take the reader into your world by infusing your memoir with a sense of place. Your story will be more memorable and appealing if the reader is there with you, smelling the scent of the flowers, walking on the soft spongy earth through the woods, hearing the rush of the traffic and honks of the horns in the cities. Bring us into your world.
There’s much more to learn about writing a memoir, but these are just a few of the features of memoir that beginning writers often overlook. But with time, effort and courageous revisions, there’s no reason you can’t write a memoir to keep your readers turning the pages—and looking forward to the sequel!
Photo Credit – Roz Chast, The New Yorker