Memoir Structure

      Writing needs structure, unless you are writing free verse poetry.  There are many structural styles but the ones I will be discussing here are those which take shape before you begin to write your memoir. You may already be using one of these structural styles and not even be aware of it.

      Some authors begin their memoir by writing several scenes and then pull it all together by a unifying theme. Others don’t start to write until they have the theme firmly in mind and then write the scenes that go with it. One is not better than the other, it is just different operating styles.  Which type of writer are you?

      Most books talk about the first style. They encourage writing many scenes and suggest finding a theme later.  I’ve always found this advice frustrating since I need to know where I’m going, not just in my writing.  This kind of advice often stops me in mid sentence asking, “Where is this going?” And if I don’t know then I end up having to find my bearings, and just like that I’m no longer in the flow of the writing.  So for me it works best  to know the theme of my memoir or at least know what I’m aiming at.  The author Ian Frazier  once said that , “If you know where you are going then it gives the writer faith”.  In other words it gives the writer confidence.

      Another structuring aspect for a memoir, which is largely behind the scenes, is the balance between exposition and story telling, or reporting versus scenes.  The goal of the memoir writer is to find that delicate balance.  There is no formula that works for every book, but it must work with your subject. If you are writing a healing memoir with lots of analytical insight, then a narrative exposition style is suitable. On the other hand if your memoir is a coming of age story with lots of humorous escapades, then you may want to have more scene building to make the story come alive.  Two authors who use more scene building than exposition are Jeannette Walls in her book Glass Castle, and Mary Karr in book, The Liars’ Club.

      These are two aspects  to consider when writing a memoir. I hope they will  help keep you on track. Happy writing.


2 responses to “Memoir Structure

  1. I loved Jeannette Walls, Glass Castle. I found it a great read and high motivating as I write my Memoir, Making Sense of the Madness (working title). I’m a published author of non-fiction, tackling the new and difficult task of this specific genre. It’s a challenge at times, but oh so revealing and enlightening!
    Enjoyed your blog. look forward to more from you. Linda

  2. I’ve always been confused by that word “exposition”… for some reason it sounds more complex than it probably is. When I write I don’t think too much about the style as I do about the theme, who my audience is and the medium of the writing. Writing style is difficult to explain. I like to think it develops over time from the writer’s own personality. Maybe it’s what makes great writers great.

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