When considering the characteristics of a memoir, the style of the narrative must be the first consideration. Memoirs are almost exclusively written from a first-person point of view. This means it comes from a singular pronoun perspective. The story comes from the narrative of “I” instead of “you” or “we.” Here are some additional characteristics to consider when composing a memoir.
#1. It has a specific focus.
Memoirs can focus on virtually anything. Many tend to focus on specific relationships or events that have happened, but there really is no rule that needs to be followed here. As long as the significance of the event or the relationship being discussed is clearly communicated so that there is one general impression that most readers will receive, then a specific focus will have been achieved.
#2. It makes the subject come alive.
When someone reads a memoir, they should be able to feel like they personally know the writer. It should be personal and compelling in nature, incorporating key details that can only come from the writer’s perspective. Instead of awkward small talk between strangers, the narrative should be more like a comfortable story that a spouse would tell their significant other.
#3. There must be an ABC story arc.
Memoirs need to be more than just a collection of random memories. There needs to be a certain story arc to them, with an overall purpose that the reader can understand. The easiest way to do this is to follow the ABC design of storytelling. A is the introduction. It tells the reader what to expect from the story. B is the body of the story, where all of the details that were promised in the introduction come to fruition. C is the conclusion, wrapping up everything offered before into a package that is nice and neat.
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#4. Memoirs are often limited in nature.
A memoir is not a complete chronology of a life – that’s what an autobiography is for. Memoirs are about specific snapshots in time which have lessons offered to the reader. They are highly descriptive as well, transporting the reader directly into each memory or story as if they are really there, experiencing the events on a first-hand basis.
#5. The story is more important that 100% accuracy.
The benefit of telling a memoir is that the narrative comes from the personal perspective of the writer. Two people can see an event unfold and remember it in two very different ways. This is why the details of a memoir, though important, do not need to be absolutely accurate to be effective. The goal here is to give the reader a personal perspective instead of a history lesson.
#6. The writing of a memoir is deliberate in nature.
A memoir should contain zero unnecessary information. If you’re writing a memoir about how you came to be a writer, then talking about how much you love to walk your dogs and play Pokemon Go isn’t going to make a lot of sense. On the other hand, if you walk your dog and play Pokemon Go as a way to develop ideas and outlines as a writer, then it would make sense to include that in your memoirs – as long as the emphasis is on the writing and not what is in your Pokedex.
#7. Dialogue should be natural instead of journalistic.
This might be the most difficult characteristic to get right when creating a memoir. There is a desire to get the details correct for the memory, so the narrative feels more like a newspaper article when reading a conversation. Try to focus more on the thoughts and emotions that happened during the dialogue, staying away from adverbs whenever possible, for best results. The readers aren’t going to know the difference between dialogue that is absolutely correct or mostly correct unless they witnessed the conversation being discussed.
#8. Memoirs have a slow pace.
Many stories need action to keep them moving. That isn’t necessarily the case with a memoir. The goal here is more about information transference as entertainment than explosions and death-defying circumstances. If the reader can live each memory in the moment as the writer experienced it, then it is a successful memoir.
The characteristics of a memoir involve storytelling instead of chronology, invitations instead of lectures, and momentary glimpses instead of lengthy segments of history. Keep these in mind as you write a memoir and you’ll discover that it will be a lot easier to create a story that readers will find to be meaningful.