It’s time today to tackle our one and only non-fiction genre: Memoir.

I have to say, I’ll likely never write a memoir even though I’ve an idea for one.  My life is just too boring and I far prefer making things up for made-up people.

That said, let’s dive right in shall we?

n. a historical account or biography written from personal knowledge or special sources
    a record of events written by a person having intimate knowledge of them and based on personal observation
    an account of one’s personal life and experiences; autobiography

n. an autobiography or a written account of one’s memory of certain events or people

*definitions pulled from my computer’s dictionary program and here.


  • Autobiographical novel
  • Slave narrative


  • Features
    • Scope and chronology are determined by context
    • Focus on a brief period of time or a series of related events
    • More focused and flexible than an autobiography
    • Usually written in a first person POV
    • Narrative structure, including many traditional storytelling techniques like imagery and characterization, is present
    • Writer’s retrospective musing on the events in question
    • Usually some sort of fictional quality despite the truth of the genre
    • Higher emotional level (than what, I’m not sure)
    • More personal reconstruction of the events and their impact
    • Therapeutic for the writer
    • Attempt to show why and how events depicted are significant
    • Centered on a problem or conflict, its resolution, and why and how they’re significant
  • Some quotes on what memoir is
    • “When you put down the good things you ought to have done, and leave out the bad ones you did do well, that’s Memoirs.”- Will Rogers
    • “Memoirs are the backstairs of history.”- George Meredith

Sources are here and here.  Oh, and the quotes are here.


  • Characteristics
    • Based on the life of the author
    • Carries the stipulation of being fictitious and no expectation of neutrality
    • Names and locations are often changed
    • Events are recreated to increase the dramatic appeal
    • Story still resembles the author’s life and the true facts
    • The protagonist should be modeled quite heavily on the author
    • Central storyline must mirror events in the author’s life
  • Examples
    • Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield
    • Ayn Rand’s We, the Living
    • Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar
    • Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian

Sources found here and here.
Slave narrative

  • Grew out of the written accounts of enslaved people
  • North American tradition
    • Three forms
      • Stories of religious redemption
        • Spiritual journey culminating in Christian redemption
        • Authors characterized themselves as Africans, not as slaves
      • Stories to inspire abolitionism
        • Became more literary
        • Included fictionalized dialogue for dramatic purposes
        • Recurrent features
          • Slave auctions
          • Break-up of families
          • 2 escape attempts, one of which is successful
      • Stories about progress
        • Post-Civil War
        • Shift in emphasis to the adjustment to freedom following the defeat of the Confederacy
  • North African tradition
    • Written by white Europeans and Americans taken captive in the north of Africa
    • Tend to highlight the “otherness” of the Islamic captors where the North American tradition looked more to show all people as having a sameness or equality to them
  • Not common today though it does still exist

More linkage:

Memoir Journal
Amazon’s memoirs page(s)

Okay, so have you read any memoirs?  Do you think you’d ever consider trying to write one?  Even if it were just for your own posterity and self-published for free distribution amongst family?  Or is this another genre you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole?

For those who do read memoir, should I be giving it a shot?  What would you recommend?