Like most people, your potential readers are probably very busy with work, family, and other obligations, and don’t have a lot of time to devote to pleasure reading. So when they finally get the chance to dive into a memoir, they are hoping for a story they can’t put down. But what, exactly, turns readers on and keeps them glued to the page?
The answer is simple: They want a powerful theme, emotional engagement, and entertainment.
#1: A Strong Theme
The theme of your memoir is your main idea; the primary concept you want to present or work through in your book. A strong theme is something all readers expect from a memoir. A few possibilities include:
- a display of uncommon courage in the face of adversity
- a bruising conflict between good and evil, or mercy and justice
- the loving sacrifice of a parent
- the unbreakable bonds of love
Even if you never spell it out, your theme is the glue that keeps your memoir together and holds your readers’ attention. Your theme is also the “grease” that keeps your readers’ eyes flying across the pages, easily moving from word to word, paragraph to paragraph, episode to episode, and idea to idea.
A good theme will help your readers connect with both you, the author, and a deeper truth. But be aware that the best themes are not always positive and uplifting: many very successful memoirs have tackled the underside of humanity. The important thing is that you choose a theme that works best for your memoir, even if it’s not necessarily heartwarming or inspiring.
#2: Emotional Engagement
A second element that readers expect from a memoir is to become emotionally involved in your story. If they aren’t, they’ll start flipping through the pages just to get to the plot points, or skipping to the end to see how it all turns out. Ideally, your memoir should be a great story with intriguing characters, a strong plot, and emotional tension, all of which grab your readers and engage them emotionally. You will then build the emotional tension to a climax, and resolve it just before the ending. But be sure that the ending is true to the story. Slapped-on happy endings don’t work well.
A third element that readers expect from a memoir is a great read. Whether it’s funny or sad, enlightening or horrifying, disturbing or uplifting, your memoir should always be interesting and entertaining. Your job as an author is to keep your readers involved by inspiring delight, shock, fear, horror, or pleasure – maybe all of these! So be sure to stay interesting if you want your readers will stay with you.