9 Things That Make Your Memoir a Great One

There are a variety of things that readers and writers alike would say about great non-fiction and memoir writing. Here are nine that I feel best encompass what makes these stories so great.

  1. Honesty. Your audience wants to know the good and the bad. That means some of your darkest secrets or embarrassing moments may be revealed. Sharing your imperfections is a great way to open your audience up to their own, creating a deeper connection. Make sure as you recollect the adventures you have experienced, use the simplest moments alongside the biggest moments and make them feel like the day to day life you actually live.
  2. Humor. Speaking of moments, we all have ridiculous things happening to us on a regular basis. I for one am known for my uncontrollable laughter. Even when we tell stories that someone doesn’t laugh at, it can spark something inside of us that makes us laugh until we cry. Including these moments in your memoir gives the obvious impression that you have an awkward life just like anyone else and that you are capable at laughing at yourself.
  3. What breaks your heart? Readers want to see the moments you may not have survived. How exactly was your soul ripped apart from a horrible boyfriend? Why did you cry when you and your best friend decided to go to separate colleges? How did you handle your childhood dog passing? How do you talk to your parents and how do they talk to you? The more readers connect with each of your emotions, the more they will relate to you.
  4. Who made you who you are? Who are the people who consistently challenge your viewpoints? Why do you let them stick around? Readers gain a sense of the type of person you are based on who you debate with. It also helps decipher the kind of people you might date, or marry! Look into the people from day one forward that bring the best and worst out of you. Who do you tell the most stories about when they’re not around or who has the ability to make you laugh with a simple glance? Make your reader feel that they are in on your inside jokes.
  5. Vulnerability. There’s a lot to say about being vulnerable. But once your audience sees a side of you that not everyone gets to see, their opinion of you might change. As you are writing, you don’t have to share everything, but keep your mindset open. The more you are willing to write down as you go, the better. These thoughts and actions might stir up something else, and then you can always go back and chop things out that you don’t want the whole world (or the people who read your memoir) to see.
  6. Strangers. I have always had a hard time transitioning from people I know to people I don’t. Often times with strangers I have a very serious persona with a side of anxiety. Yet with friends I am more laid back and sharing stories that will make them laugh. However, I have had the privilege to talk to quite a few strangers in passing that I genuinely connected to and the conversations still amaze me. Think about the topics and discussions you have had with people you don’t know very well and how these conversations shape the type of person you are. How can you build one of these (or a few) of these conversations into your memoir to explain a piece of yourself?
  7. Things that annoy you. You don’t need to tell us everything that makes you roll your eyes, but some things might help. Then as you are about to dive into a horribly annoying situation we are inside your head. We are (again) in on your inside jokes, and we see the train wreck before it even happens. More laughter might ensue because of this. Think about your pet peeves and how they can transform each story for the better or worse.
  8. Where did you come from and where are you going? This question can be valuable in shaping your story because readers are able to see at least some parts of you coming full circle. No resume necessary, but as you add details and important stories, decide where you see your life going. How has your past shaped your present and future?
  9. Why your story is important. Readers will become invested in your writing without a moral tale at the end (or beginning) explaining to them why exactly they read it. However, you still need to believe that your writing is valuable in order for them to stay invested. Take pride in what you are writing. The best memoirs come from being able to step back and learn something new about yourself and your direction. You may not be able to entirely pull away from the story and read it as a stranger reads it, but compiling the collection of thoughts, words, and actions into something tangible might make you understand why your story is as important as the person next to you.
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6 Comments

      • Thank you. I might add that because writing in memoir is a deep and personal experience, it can be a lot more intimidating than writing fiction as we expose our truths to the world. When I began writing my memoirs, I learned a lot from reading many books on the subject, my favorite was William Zinsser.
        When I began writing my first book I found that as I went along and exposed personal traits about people in my book that were not flattering, I began to feel apprehensive about publishing.
        What I had learned was to keep writing, and don’t stop to second-guess my words with my feelings of apprehension. We must keep going with writing our memories and feelings the way we remembered them until that first draft is done. Only then is the time to begin revising the story.

  1. Thank you, that is some very valuable insight as well! Even when small things about friends or family tie into my fiction I think I become apprehensive, but that’s what writing is for. If you aren’t doing things that surprise you, what sort of surprises will your reader find? It can be a very difficult to let go of the fears and write everything down, but I’m glad you have found a way to make it happen!

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