Perhaps it’s easier to begin with what a memoir is not.
It’s not an autobiography, which is a complete, factual account of your life, from birth to the present day.
It’s not a journal or collection of musings.
And it’s not that string of amusing stories that your friends love to hear when you’re all gathered around the dinner table.
Not by a long shot.
Many elements make a memoir
So what is a memoir? It is a story that presents a carefully selected “slice” of your life, revolving around a situation, experience, or interaction with others that brought up powerful emotions. And these emotions, whether positive or negative, must have challenged you and forced you to grow or change in a significant way.
Thus, a memoir is partly an autobiography, as you are telling the readers about yourself.
It may also be part exposé, for you may reveal something discreditable, such as your own emotional “dirty laundry,” or certain deeds done by others.
A memoir is also akin to a novel; the principles of dramatic structure apply, for your story should be compelling, include some conflict, build to a climax and have a satisfying resolution. And because it’s all about people, you must also focus on making your memoir characters come alive.
But most of all, a memoir is…
… a story you tell about yourself… about the way you felt about and responded to a certain time, situation, problem or person in your life. Whether dramatic, humorous, nostalgic or romantic, full of fireworks or rather calm, your memoir must always be about thoughts and feelings, challenges and changes.
What is a memoir?
Its part autobiography, part exposé and part novel, but most of all, it’s a story you tell about your life that compels readers to identify with you and accompany you on your journey. And that’s what you should be focusing on when writing your memoir.