A memoir is a factual account of a story from the author’s memory. A good memoir has the reader engrossed in the story, as with any good work of fiction. The memoir is more like the story about the events rather than a simple narrative of the events themselves. This gives the writer some flexibility compared to writing the timeline of an autobiography.
Start the story with the essence of your core conflict. That is, from the beginning there is something you wanted to achieve or to become. Start the story with specific events that highlight this struggle and sets up the conflict for the reader immediately. If the events occur halfway through the story, then that is even better. That gives you the opportunity to weave a more interesting journey for the reader to discover how things got to that point.
The core conflict could be a key turning point in the story, such as a description of events that caused everything in your life to change. You may have several turning points in the book to maintain the sense of struggle around the core conflict. In the end, the core conflict must be resolved, replaced, or become irrelevant through changing circumstances or you will frustrate the reader.
Approach the story as honestly as possible. This may reveal raw emotions or critical perspectives of yourself that you did not expect. Resist the desire to suppress those thoughts and feelings. These are the critical components for bringing your story to life and making the difference between a historical account and a compelling story. If you try to hide your true feelings or use the events to push a particular point of view, the reader is likely to catch on that you are not being honest with yourself.
The other aspect of honesty is writing in your own style, or voice. Write as if you were telling the story to a friend and include all of your typical expressions and colloquialisms. This will help the reader to associate more directly with you and your unique personality throughout the book.
While the memoir is a story from the writer’s personal experience, the writer should not dominate the story by writing laboriously about his/her personal beliefs on a topic. Write a good, entertaining story and allow the reader to go on the journey with you, rather than focusing exclusively on you. A good story is not necessarily one that involves exceptional accomplishments or thrilling events. A good story is primarily one that is well written and entertaining, regardless of the topic.
Go to your old photo albums, journals and boxes of paper stored in the attic and pore through them for reminders of the relevant events. Even if you can’t recall all of the details of certain events at the beginning of the project, the pictures and other items will help to jog your memory and as you write you will be surprised how many details emerge. Sometimes, visiting the actual locations and talking with people involved can help to boost your memory and even supply missing details.
Finally, as a factual account or story, you must authenticate all of the details in the story. Places, events, dates and times, technology and people must all be factual. Even small details that are incorrect can create dissonance in the mind of the reader that will distract them from your story. Write it first, then go back and worry about the flow, the grammar, and validating the facts. Have fun with your story. Write on!