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Types of Memoirs

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April 2010

Writing a memoir is a popular form of creative writing and popular type of creative nonfiction. Unlike the autobiography, which focuses on the entire life of the writer, the memoir takes place during a particular period of time. Essentially, it is a slice of life. For instance, Bill Clinton wrote a memoir on his experience as President of the United States.

Although politicians, movie stars, and many well-known people have written memoirs, many ordinary people are now writing them. They often do this to gain perspective on a life that has happened by chance or unfolded in an unpredictable way. For instance, Elizabeth Gilbert, has written Eat, Pray, Love, a memoir about her experience after the end of her marriage. Ordinary people also often write memoirs to share their experience with others—to inform and educate.

In all memoirs, the writer reconstructs the experience or events by building scenes, and then conveys the significance of these scenes to the reader.

The writer also uses various literary devices to tell his her story, such as imagery, simile, metaphor, details, dialogue, characterization, theme, and narrative structure.

Often the memoir is based on a pivotal event/events or experience, which represent a turning point in the writer’s life.

A good memoir shares the significance of the experience or events with the reader. Sharing personal experience allows the reader to learn something. It is often a universal truth.

To write the memoir, the writer must “mine his/her memories.” In other words, the writer must recollect or use various techniques to remember what happened, and then be able to write about the experience in an interesting, entertaining, and informative way. So, the writer must research his/her past. This applies to all types of memoirs.

There are several types of memoirs that can be written. Some memoirs are short, attempting to capture a single event or slice of life. Others are longer, narrating critical events and major turning points in the writer’s life. Some are almost autobiographical.

The following is a brief description of the various types of memoirs:

  • Personal memoir. It is based on a particular experience or event, such as child abuse, divorce, illness, or adventure. This is the most popular type of memoir.
  • Portrait memoir. It is based on an event or experience of a person who is not the author.
  • Coming of age memoir. It focuses on the transformation of the writer from childhood to adulthood. The memoirist writes about the significant events and experiences in childhood and the significance.
  • Spiritual quest memoir. It focuses on the search for spiritual meaning and purpose. The writer is a spiritual seeker.
  • Travel memoir. It focuses on the writer’s experience traveling. Often the writer narrates a story about a personal adventure.
  • Confessional memoir. The writer confesses his/her sins or wrongdoings and how he/she made amends or reformed his/her ways.
  • Political memoir. It is written by a person who holds public office. Almost all Presidents write memoirs as a form of historical record and to share their experiences. As well, most Prime Ministers write memoirs of their experiences in political office.
  • Public or celebrity memoir. People want to know what it is like to be famous. In this type of memoir, the writer shares his/her experiences, feelings, thoughts, opinions, point of view about life in the public eye.

There are other types of memoirs, but these are the most popular. Many people who write a memoir follow one of these forms. A few experiment—and create new forms. They key point to remember is that there is more than one way to write a memoir.

In the next post, I will discuss narrative structure.

1 Comment

  1. li5b3th says:

    Reblogged this on Creative Writing.

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