Writing a memoir involves capturing and sharing significant aspects of your own life experiences. To create a compelling and engaging memoir, here are some crucial elements to consider:
Authenticity: Our memories of the past are imperfect. There’s no such thing as objective truth about any experience. People who lived through the same events almost always have conflicting memories of those shared experiences. So, I advise my students to strive for honesty instead of aiming for Truth. A memoir should sincerely and honestly reflect your personal experiences and emotions. Let go of your fear that your story will differ from another family member’s, friend’s, or colleague’s memories. Instead, expect it to.
Focus and Theme: Determine the central theme or message you want to convey through your memoir. It could be a coming-of-age story, a tale of triumph over adversity, or a journey of self-discovery. Maintaining a clear focus will help structure your narrative and keep it cohesive.
Selective Memory: While you aim to be authentic, you don’t have to include every detail of your life. Figuring out what details or stories to leave out is a crucial aspect of memoir writing. Focus on the most meaningful and relevant events contributing to your theme. Selecting the essential memories and shaping them will make your memoir more impactful.
Emotional Resonance: Explore the emotional depth of your experiences. Share not only what happened but also how it made you feel. By delving into your emotions, you allow readers to connect with your story on a deeper level.
Character Development: Present yourself and other people in your memoir as fully realized characters. Show their personalities, motivations, complexities, and quirks. This helps readers engage with the people who influenced your life.
Vivid Description: Use vivid, sensory language to paint a picture for your readers. Describe people, places, and events in detail, appealing to the senses to bring your experiences to life. This allows readers to visualize and immerse themselves in your story.
Reflection and Insight: As you share your experiences, offer reflections and insights from those events. Discuss the lessons learned, personal growth, and newfound wisdom. This elevates your memoir beyond a mere chronicle and gives it depth. When you tell stories about the past, use a Voice of Innocents, the voice of the person you were then. When you reflect on the past, write in a Voice of Experience, i.e., the person you are today.
Structure and Narrative Flow: Organize your memoir coherently and logically. Consider different approaches such as chronological order, thematic organization, or combining both. Ensure a smooth flow from one chapter or section to another.
Dialogue and Conversations: Incorporate dialogue to make your memoir dynamic. Use it to recreate conversations and interactions that were crucial to your story. This brings authenticity to your narrative and adds interest for the readers. The best dialogue reveals things about your characters.
Editing and Revision: Once you’ve written your memoir, go through several rounds of editing and revision. Polish your prose, refine your storytelling, and eliminate any unnecessary details. Consider seeking feedback from beta readers or hiring a professional editor.
Remember, writing a memoir is a deeply personal endeavor, and each author will have their unique approach. The key is to find your authentic voice and create a narrative that resonates with readers while staying true to your story.
Brad Wetzler is an author, journalist, podcaster, and yoga + mindfulness teacher, and writing mentor. Brad began his career as an editor and adventure-travel writer. He served as a senior editor at Outside magazine and was a contributing editor at Outside, National Geographic Adventure, and George magazines. Brad has written hundreds of articles and essays on wide-ranging topics. He writes books and articles and hosts a podcast about adventure healing, emotional wellness, and faith and spirituality. His memoir Into the Soul of the World will be published in 2023.
Get Your FREE eBook
Live A Great Story and Get My Free "How to Tell A Great Story" eBook