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What’s Your Story? The Basics of Memoir Writing

Story Memoir Writing

The only requirement to writing a memoir is to tell a unique, personal story only you can tell. One of the biggest misconceptions about memoir as a genre is that you need to be a celebrity to write one. That’s simply not true! Everyone has stories to tell and every story is worth being told. There are lessons in your life worth sharing with readers and entertainment or inspiration to be found in the conclusion.

Memoirs require writers to dig deep into their life and to come up with scenes that bring the reader into their world. It isn’t as simple as listing all the things that you have done, the things that have happened to you, the places you have seen, or the people you have met.

Let’s take a closer look at the basics of building a memoir.

Pick a Theme

Your theme is the thread that ties all of your stories together. A clearly identified theme is what distinguishes your memoir from being a collection of disconnected stories. Common themes people explore in memoir include: coming-of-age, marriage, parenting, travel, love, loss, courage, family, life transitions, new experiences, and much more. There are endless thematic opportunities to explore.

The best themes speak to the universal human experience, something that is both personal to your life and universal to humanity. This means that your readers will be able to relate to your story and connect with your unique life experiences.

The best place to start when looking for a theme is to make a list of the significant events and memories of your life. Dig in and look for a common thread. No memory is insignificant! But ask yourself why you remember it. Why has this event or memory stuck with you?

Narrow Your Focus

Memoir is considered “a slice of life.” It is not an autobiography, which covers the entire lifetime of the writer from beginning to end. Memoirs, on the other hand, will only cover a handful of important events in the writer’s life, tied together by a main theme. As a result, you will only pull and write about a handful of memories or events in your life. Anything that distracts or detracts from the main theme of your memoir shouldn’t be included. And even then, you will only be using the memories or events that best exemplify your theme.

Find Your Character Arc

A memoir is not just about what happened to you—it’s also about how you changed. What brings every story to life is the character arc, not just the plot or the list of things that happened. Memoirs use the same tools as fictions writers: how does the protagonist (in this case, you) change throughout the story? Every good story reveals the character’s core transformation or change from beginning, middle, to end. A character can change psychologically, emotionally, physically, and morally based on the external events they encounter in the story. This change is the emotional framework of your memoir.

Just like a character in a novel is transformed by the dramatic action in the story, you too must show the same transformation from the events portrayed in your memoir. Begin thinking how you changed based on events, actions, decisions, or realizations.


Interested in trying your hand at memoir writing? Read more about the Life Enrichment Center’s Six-Week Memoir Writing class here.

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