“Be different than everyone else.”
“Find your own niche.”
“Create your own voice.”
Everyone has a lot of advice to offer when you mention that you’d like to write a memoir. When it comes to memoir structure, however, there is no need to find something that is different from every other memoir that has already been written.
Sometimes the best memoirs are those that have a beginning point, and ending point, and then the writer just tells their story between those two moments.
If you are looking for something with definitive structure, however, then here are the best memoir structures to consider using to tell your story.
#1. The Straightforward Structure
This is the memoir structure that you find used most often. It’s a straightforward journey through the events that occurred. You start at moment A, move to moment B, then continue on to moments C, D, and E – and so forth. These memoirs are generally chronological in nature, have transitions between each moment where learning lessons took place, and then end at a logical destination for the reader.
A great example of a memoir using this structure is Running with Scissors by Augusten Burrough.
#2. The Framed Structure
This is the memoir structure to use if you need to include flashbacks, dreams, or other backstory elements to give your experiences context. The frame of the memoir is a limited period of time or a specific life event which occurred. Outside of the frame exists comments about your childhood, your past relationships, and other experiences that helped to bring you to the beginning of this story.
A great example of a memoir using this structure is Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
#3. The Thematic Memoir
Sometimes a memoir needs to span over several years or experiences in order to tell the right story. This is when you would want to use this memoir structure. You’re still not trying to cover the entire story of your life, but maybe there is a lesson that took you 30 years to actually learn. Covering those 30 years and the moments that brought you to where you are today would be best served in this memoir structure.
This structure is the most flexible. It doesn’t require linear timing, nor does it require framing for it to make sense. Instead it is based on a specific issue that you’re discussing throughout the book.
A great example of a memoir using this structure is Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson.
Elements that Every Memoir Structure Must Have
Every memoir structure must contain certain elements in order for it to become a meaningful story for the reader. The most important element is the category of memoir you are choosing to write. Common categories include overcoming addiction, spirituality, love, death, or coming of age. Your category can be the theme of your memoir depending on your chosen structure.
Even if you’re not writing a thematic memoir, you must have some sort of overarching theme that brings all of the elements of your story together. It’s like the thesis statement of a persuasive paper. You must keep coming back to this core thought for the remainder of the memoir. You can choose to have multiple themes in your memoir as long as you continue to address them throughout the story.
Each memoir structure must also remain on point. It’s very easy to go off on lengthy tangents because they feel important at the time the memoir is being written, but it is the reader focus that must be considered during the composition process. If the tangent doesn’t lead the reader toward the conclusion in a natural way, then it shouldn’t be included in the memoir.
Each Memoir Must Also Have a Key Takeaway
The takeaway in a memoir is the one key truth that you wish the reader to have after finishing you story. These moments are generally something that is a universal so that the reader can apply the lessons offered in their own life.
The experience of the writer can become the experience of the reader when the memoir is able to utilize the structure, elements, and offer one key takeaway in a meaningful way.
Writing a memoir can be a lengthy process. Considering the best memoir structure and how your key takeaway can work together is a great place to start. Then use the elements to fill in the blanks for the reader and you’ll be able to create an engaging story that many will enjoy reading.