Sunday, June 30, 2013

Snippets of Meaning: an introduction to memoir writing

Welcome back to Philadelphia Writing!  In our last column I introduced you to the genre of memoir but I didn’t really explain the nuances of memoir.    Let’s get started.

Memoir writing proves to be a special genre as writers touch readers through shared experiences while providing the audience that none of us ever truly live in isolation.  As a craft, memoir writers enjoy the best of writing by applying fiction and nonfiction writing techniques to their prose.  Even better, a memoir can contain different types of genres such as essays, speeches, poems and even illustrations.   More historical types of vignettes that weave news and period-related events into a life story.

So the rules for writing a memoir are free and flexible so long as you tell a story about a time in your life where you can show readers growth or change.  However, what a memoir is not is a cradle to grave story of your life, that would be an autobiography.

A memoir focuses on a slice of life such as a time period, event, historical connection or life period and then teaches a life lesson or shows a change experienced by the author .   Memoirs serve as snippets of chances taken, adventures had and emotions experienced.   Well-written memoirs touch the reader at their deepest roots and evoke emotional responses such as humor, sorrow, conflict, or suspense.   Memoirs can be uproarishly funny or heartbreakingly sad or somewhere on this spectrum of emotion.    By combining the author’s stories with the elements of fiction, readers become fully engaged and can relish in a meaningful, well-told story.
As you write, your memoir will be able to answer key questions such as:
  1. Why an event happened
  2. How an event happened
  3. What did the event mean or teach you?
Everyone has a story to tell, so before you run from the idea of writing a memoir, think in smaller snippets.  Most memoirists start with vignettes, or small life stories.  As their collection of vignettes grows, then the author starts to consider how or if there is a memoir hidden among the notebooks of little stories

Want to give this a whirl?  Use the following prompt to dig some potential memoir vignettes.
Describe your favorite childhood holiday.  Who was involved, what happened, where did it occur each year, what where the highlighs and lowlights?  How would you change the holiday if you were in charge today?
Our next edition of Phiiadelphia Writing will feature Philadelphia-based memoirist and artist Barbara Hammond.  You can preview Barbara’s work at the Blogstress Network.

For more information on memoir writing, contact Cheryl Stahle at or       Facebook @Your Best WritingGroup.

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