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Memoir vs Personal Narrative

Sharing memories can be a great writing experience. It can also be a meaningful reading experience. What each of us has learned over the course of life can teach others the same lessons we were taught in that moment. This teaching is often offered through two writing styles: memoirs or personal narratives.

In the memoir vs personal narrative conversation, it is important to remember that although these two writing approaches are quite similar, there are several unique components to each one that makes them stand out. Let’s take a look at the key differences below.

A memoir tells the true story of something that happened to someone with a thesis included.

Memoirs have a reason why they are being shared. It is a look back at certain key moments in life so that they connected to a central thesis that is being offered to the reader. You’ll find many memoirs about overcoming a difficult childhood, defeating addiction, or pursuing a dream. These examples offer a story arc to the reader that says they can also find success if they follow in the same steps that the author outlines in their story.

Memoirs are generally written from a truthful perspective, but they don’t always have to be. The goal of a memoir is more to offer the story arc and thesis lesson than to offer a completely true recounting of a memory. You might find in a memoir that several people who offer advice become one person. Names or dates might be a little different.

It’s truth, but a truth which comes from the perspective of the writer.

A personal narrative just tells the true story of an event that happened to someone.

The personal narrative is designed to tell the story of one special memory or moment in time. It can be about a loved one, a friend, or what happened to you yesterday when you went to the zoo. When a family sits around the dinner table and talks about their day, what is being offered is a personal narrative.

Are personal narratives based on memories? Yes. What they are not intended to do is provide the reader or listener with a greater story arc. It is one memory or moment, precisely told, so that others can be in that memory or moment as well.

Now this doesn’t mean that a personal narrative cannot have a thesis to it or a lesson that can be learned. The difference here is that where a memoir can take certain liberties with what has happened to make its key points, the personal narrative must rely on exact circumstances in order to offer a lesson to the reader.

Why is it important to know the difference between a memoir vs a personal narrative?

Both types of writing involve invoking an emotional reaction from the reader. Through that emotion, the goal is to offer the reader a lesson to be learned.

It’s how that emotion is invoked that is ultimately what is different between these two writing opportunities. In the personal narrative, the goal is to lead the reader on to get them interested in the rest of the story. You’re putting in a hook from the very start by throwing them right into the middle of the story. You have them hit the ground running.

In a memoir, emotion is invoked more by creating a personal relationship between the author and the reader. The hook for a memoir is to get the reader interested in the rest of the story not because it is interesting, but because they feel a connection to the author and want to know more about their life.

How can memoirs and personal narratives be the same?

Both memoirs and personal narratives focus on using imagery to keep the reader interested. This means both do their best to follow the same old advice that every high school English teacher has offered for a century: show the reader what is happening instead of telling them.

The reason why “show” is better than “tell” here is because it gives the reader a chance to obtain additional information about what is going on. They receive clues as to what might happen next based on what they can imagine is happening now. It is this process which helps to develop the emotional connections which are necessary for both memoirs and personal narratives to succeed.

In the memoir vs personal narrative conversation, there are some similarities, but there are also some key differences. Take note of them and you’ll be able to write in the style that your story demands.

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Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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