What Is a Memoir?

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A memoir is a non-fictional, narrative of events and memories from the author’s real life, written in first person. Memoirs derive from the French for “memory” or “reminisce” and focus on personal experience, intimacy, and emotional truth – memoir writers often play with their memories and with an important part of their real life in order to tell a good story. Because of this reason, memoirs are not bound to formal expectations around chronology or factual accuracy. It’s often amalgamated with autobiography, but there are a few important differences. An autobiography is also written from the author’s perspective, but the narrative spans their entire life while a  memoir is a narrative written from the author’s perspective about a particular facet of their own life. Memoirs still include all the facts of the event as autobiography does but the author has more flexibility here because he/she is telling a story as she remembers it, not as others can prove or disprove it.

Long Walk to Freedom is Nelson Mandela’s autobiography which chronicles his early life and years in prison and was published in 1994. Faced with the prognosis of terminal cancer at the age of thirty-six, Paul Kalanithi wrote an unforgettable memoir that tackles an impossible question: what makes life worth living? The memoir is titled When Breath Becomes Air. 

Types of Memoirs:

There is no finite number of memoir sub-categories, the more shades of experiences we have in our lives the more sub-categories the memoirs can have.  So, what does memoir mean today? Most of them fall into several large types, but with a definite chance of overlap.

In all memoirs, the writer reconstructs the experience or events by building scenes and then conveys the significance of these scenes to the reader by using various literary devices to tell his or her stories, such as imagery, simile, metaphor, details, dialogue, characterization, theme, and narrative structure. It often depicts a pivotal l event/events or experience, which represents a turning point in the author’s life. The main purpose of writing memoirs is to share experiences with others—to inform and educate them.

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.

so, here we will discuss the major types of memoirs:

  1. Confessional Memoirs: 

This unique and unapologetically bold type of memoir focuses on what the writer feels like the wrong actions or decisions they took in life. It is a lot like someone’s painful confession about themselves or their family and how it has affected them. It’s more like a confessional booth to talk to a priest about their sins, which is how this confessional memoir got its name.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions shocked readers in that it was a secular coming-of-age story, and because it contained unexpected details of his life, like his sexual preferences.

  1. Transformational Memoirs:

This is one of the most common types of memoirs today. This is written after an author has endured or overcome a great challenge. A transformational memoir also includes what the writer found or learned at the end of the journey during the quest for transformation.

Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares is Aarti Namdev Shahani’s family immigrant story, of how an unknown dealing with a drug cartel led to her father being sent to Rikers Island and a study in how difficult it is to make it in America.

  1. Travel memoirs:

It focuses on the writer’s traveling experiences. Often the writer narrates a story about his/her experiences, activities, and lessons learned during a trip and about his/her personal adventure.  This kind of memoir is mostly filled with places in vivid detail and unforgettable good or bad experiences. To add substance, many authors include how they were forever changed by their travels.

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild takes us on her emotional solo journey along the Pacific Crest Trail as she grieves the loss of her mother and her marriage.

A Year in Provence is Peter Mayle’s heartwarming account of the year that he threw caution to the wind and moved his family into a crumbling, 200-year-old farmhouse in the French countryside.

  1. Professional memoirs:

This type of memoir is written from the perspective of the writer’s professional life. If someone was a politician, author, painter,  public speaker, or scientist, for example, they might write a memoir about their time in public office. A writer might offer a memoir about their experiences of trying to get their first novel published. In short, it covers important moments in the professional’s rise to fame and success. Some examples include:

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai details her horrible attack by the Taliban, her recovery, and her decision to fight for girls’ education worldwide.

5. Personal Memoirs:

This has been traditionally the most popular type of memoir. It offers a glimpse at the writer’s personal life in a certain segment of time. This is the most popular type of memoir.

The personal memoir always focuses on:

  • a specific experience or event
  • why that event may have occurred
  • what the writer learned after the situation resolved

Is there a part of your life that is begging to be turned into a story? All of these different types of memoirs can then be broken down into sub-types based on your preference. You can even decide to create your own type of memoir to suit your needs and get started with your own memoir-writing journey.

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