How To Write A Memoir for Me to Read

/ posted in: Book DiscussionReading

I read a lot of memoirs. When reviewing them I find myself bringing up the same points over and over.  Because I am so freaking helpful, I have decided to write a guide for How to Write A Memoir that Isn’t Going to Make Me Cranky.  Just fill in your life details.

Prologue

Who the heck are you?

Maybe it is just me but I find myself picking up a lot of memoirs by people I’ve never heard of.  Does any one else do that? The issue is that I then sometimes find myself so far out of my depth that I feel like I have to research a person before I read their memoir.

Example, I picked up a book by the first Welsh rugby player to publically announce that he was gay. That sounded interesting. That’s a really macho subculture. I wondered how that went for him. I’m also of Welsh heritage and am interested in reading more books set there. But …  I was lost from the beginning. I don’t know rugby. Things that Welsh rugby fans would know like famous matches and rivalries were written about like they were obvious and I had no clue. I know I wasn’t the target audience so that’s where my prologue comes in.

This is a primer on your life.

  • I am famous because of ……
  • Terms you need to know to understand my story are …..
  • Here’s some links to video, websites, etc. to get your bearings before you read on

If you know who the person is, you can skip the prologue. I’m currently reading/listening to two memoirs. Both authors are vague at first about who they are. I can mentally fill in the blanks with one because I’m familiar with her but I’m lost on the other.

Get to the Point

Chapter 1 – Talk about your highlight

I picked up your book.  Now you have to convince me to keep reading.  Show me something from the highlight reel.

Zach Anner did this well. He got famous through a contest to win a spot on a reality show. He led with this story.  Then once you were invested in his life he went back and started talking about what it was like to grow up with cerebral palsy.  That is so much better than slogging through chapters and chapters knowing that something interesting happens when he is 22 but now you’re 100 pages in and the author hasn’t started kindergarten yet.  Ugh, DNF!

The memoir doesn’t have to be chronological.  Just get to the point.

 

Your Childhood Isn’t Interesting

Chapter 2 is all you get for your childhood

Unless you were a child actor or a prodigy at something, your childhood was not as interesting as you think it is.  I get it.  You feel like where you grew up shaped you.  Ok, here’s your chance to represent the old neighborhood and get it out of your system.  You get one chapter.  One short chapter.  I don’t need to know all about your background and your parents’ backgrounds if this is never going to come up again in the story.  Hit what is important and move on to the real story.   For example, I love Eddie Izzard and am loathe to make him a poor example but he went on and on about being born in Yemen (yes, interesting) and then every place he lived after that and who he played with when he was five and then never saw again….  I would have run away screaming if I wasn’t really a big fan.  Seriously, I listened on audio and it took HOURS to get to when he became a performer.  

 

Why Are You Writing This?

Chapters 3 through Infinity – Tell your story

Obviously, I like it when people tell me their stories.  I also like memoirs that aren’t necessarily about the facts of a person’s life but about issues they believe in.  Whatever type of memoir you write, just remember what you want to convey.  Own it.  Don’t get halfway through and then totally change the focus of the story or start wandering off on tangents that don’t lead anywhere so you have to course correct later.  I just finished a memoir that according to the cover blurb is about a court case.  That’s why I picked it up.  It is briefly mentioned in a few spots in the book.  Apparently it was famous in the country where this took place so the author assumes we all are so tired of hearing the details.  I’m not from that country.  I’m done with the book and couldn’t really tell you what happened except she won.  Yay!  I guess?  I spent the whole book thinking, “Ok, this is your life but what about this court case that is supposed to be such a big deal?”


If you love reading memoirs, what are your pet peeves?