When most people start thinking about writing a memoir for the first time, the thought is usually something along these lines: “This was my life. I’ll tell the story just as it happened.” And so the typing begins. The only problem with this approach is that memoirs need to be in the shape of a story for the reader. Instead of scenes that seem awkwardly put together, even though it may have happened that way, it’s up to you to create a story arc that makes sense.
In order to do that, there are a few memoir formats that you can use as a template to get started. Then just fill in the details of each memory as you outline your story arc so that the message you want to get across to the reader is one that is meaningful.
#1. Fulfilling a Desire
In this format, you’re creating a statement that you’ll answer within the memoir. The desire here is something that you wanted to accomplish in life. Maybe you wanted to be a parent. Or a police officer. Or you were trying to figure out how to manage three step-children. The desires we have in life are endless.
Once you get that desire into the right statement: “I always wanted to be a police officer when I became an adult,” you’re ready to begin filling in some of the key details that you’ll need. Did you become an officer? What stopped you from becoming one? What challenges did you face? What was the outcome?
Answer those questions and you’ll have a pretty solid first draft for your memoir.
We all reach roadblocks in life sometimes. Some of us wanted to become famous mystery writers who ended up becoming semi-famous bloggers, consultants, or content marketers. Others wanted to be famous mystery writers and ended up working in insurance, sales, or decided to become a stay-at-home parent.
What is unique about these roadblocks in life is that they offer lessons to be learned. In this format, you can talk about the desire you had from the previous exercise. Then you can talk about how you tried to get what you want. You ran into an obstacle – talk about that. Then what did you do?
This format is all about turning you into an action hero. You did something when you reached that roadblock. Sharing your decision-making process can help your readers be able to gain insight into their own thoughts when they encounter a similar situation.
#3. Emotional Rollercoasters
When we think of emotion today, there’s a good chance many people will think of a specific emoticon or emoji. That’s more of a shortcut for what it takes to create a great memoir format. Include emotional words throughout your stories that draw people into your narrative. Include key beats that will hook the reader in to experience more.
For example: you can talk about how you felt loved by your parents. How awesome life was. “Then my father had an affair and my parents got a divorce.” You’ve just keyed an event to that emotion and can now expand upon your thoughts to create a meaningful story.
Although we have major decisions to make in life and many of them influence who we are as people, most of life’s turning points are fairly minor. This doesn’t mean they are unimportant. You just need a memoir format that will enhance the message that they’re able to send to the reader.
In this format, each desire you have is created by an initiating event. You wanted to become a pro wrestler because you and your father watched it on TV every week. You wanted to be a police officer because one pulled you out of a burning car when you were little. What makes this a powerful format is that you create a status quo – the initiation is powerful and so is the outcome.
#5. Final Resting Place
As a final format, sometimes the best place to start is at the end of the story instead of the beginning. Show people in your memoirs where you are today. Then work from the beginning of your story after you’ve showed people where you currently are today.
Think of it like this: most stories follow an ABC format. A is the beginning, B is the body text, and C is the conclusion. In this memoir format, you’re going to be following a CABC format. The second conclusion, instead of being where you are today, can become what you hope to be in the future.
The best memoir format is ultimately the one you are most comfortable writing. Tell your stories and weave an important thesis within them that is meaningful to the reader. With a solid story arc, your memoirs can become a fascinating adventure that everyone can experience. Keep that in mind and you’ll be able to create something very special.
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