The 4 Key Elements to Writing a Great Memoir

Posted by Arthur Gutch
Published On Mar 21, 2017

Memoirs can be the most difficult type of book to write, which is really counter-intuitive. After all, it's your life. Why shouldn't you be able to write it easily? By taking non-fiction information and putting it into the fiction form you're changing the knowledge you know best, and that doesn't come easily for most people. It's tough to tell what to leave in and what to edit out, since your entire life is important to you. It's all about the arc: the story line that ties your tale together. Here are the key elements that draw your arc into a book that readers will love. legacy_self_publishing.jpg

1. Your Desires

An arc is a roadmap, a way for you to tell how you got from there to here. The first step in creating this arc is to determine what you wanted in this story. What were your basic desires? Your desire should be able to be boiled down to one sentence:

  • I wanted to build my business
  • I wanted to create a Girl Scout troop
  • I wanted to find the cause of my child's illness
  • I wanted to see every baseball game my team played in a year

Make this desire line as specific as possible, but don't worry if it's harder that you thought to create it. After all, you'll be discarding a lot of your life experiences by sticking to one specific part.

2. Obstacles and Actions

Once you have the arc, you'll be able to lay out a basic narrative of what happens in your story. The easiest way is to write down a series of actions and obstacles.

Start with the desire line: I wanted to ____________________.  Move on to actions. To get it, I _________________.  Then, I _______________________. But then, _______________________ got in my way. So I _____________________. And so on. Keep going with these basic facts about the entire story arc as if you were telling your life story in half a page.

It's easier to do this if you picture yourself as the action hero in the story of your life. You have problems and setbacks, and probably villains who try to stop you from reaching your goal, but in the end you push on until you succeed.

3. How Did You Feel?

This is the story of your life and you were there, experiencing every problem. Make the reader experience them right along with you. For every beat in the narrative above, figure out how it made you feel. Were you frustrated or angry? Puzzled or excited? Let the readers relive your feelings and they'll be drawn along deeper into the story.

4. The End

Picking the end point in your memoir is tough. After all, your life goes on but your story can't. Look back to your desire line to figure out where the story stops. Did you achieve your goal? Did you realize there was no possible way it was going to happen? Did you change your mind and move on to another goal? Any of these points signifies a good place to stop and wrap up the story, at least for now.

Keep the Faith and may the Force be with You!