What is a memoir? “I had to look up the definition of a memoir before I wrote my entry for this contest,” one writer confessed to me.
“Congratulations!” I responded, acknowledging her award.
This writer’s research paid off. Plus, she chose an inspiring, true story from her life, and she engaged her readers with a meaningful message using creative nonfiction techniques.
Since I judged the entries to this contest, I also noticed that some of the other aspiring and experienced writers needed to do a little research before they write a memoir. So, I thought that I would share a little of what I’ve learned as a memoirist in my next couple of posts.
My journey to memoir writing began when I enrolled in a class on writing for publication about three decades ago. But I really didn’t hear the term “memoir” much until I took some nonfiction writing classes a decade later.
One of my favorite professors at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Dr. Sally Crisp, recommended a very helpful book on that subject by another writing teacher, Judith Barrington. Barrington describes her book, Writing the Memoir, as a “practical guide to the craft, the personal challenges, and ethical dilemmas of writing your true stories.”
Writing a memoir? Below are some questions that I’m asking myself when I write a memoir.
- Does my memoir have a focused theme or topic? William Zinsser discusses the memoir in his book On Writing Well. “Memoir isn’t the summary of a life (like autobiography); it’s a window into a life, very much like a photograph in its selective composition” (136).
- Does my memoir have a narrative arc? A memoir tells a story about certain people, places, or events from the writer’s personal life.
- Does my story reflect my personal thoughts or beliefs? The writer’s thoughts and beliefs about the events are a vital part of in the memoir.
- What is the tone of my memoir? The narrative voice reflects on her thoughts and feelings in an intimate, conversational, and honest manner.
Creative Nonfiction. The memoir tells a true story using creative nonfiction techniques.
- Contains all the elements of fiction.
- Moves back and forth in time.
- Requires believable dialogue, based on truth.
- Switches from scene to summary to musing.
What resources can you recommend on memoir writing?
Karen Jordan encourages others to “tell the stories that matter most.” Find links to her writing workshops, speaking topics, and other online connections at www.karenjordan.net.