In times gone by, memoirs were the sole domain of the famous (or infamous) after the denouement of their notoriety. Whether to maintain a portion of the spotlight or to immortalize their side of the story, memoirists were a specific kind of author.
They rarely physically wrote the book. Rather, they hired a writer to transcribe their experiences or to collate journal entries into a readable book format. Today, memoirs are very different.
Memoirs about experiences other people share are becoming more popular. Groups of memiorists find one another through books about similar topics. Widows/Widowers, religious pilgrims and fans who encounter their objects are examples of like-experienced memoirists who congregate.
One of the most exploited examples are those who write about alien abduction. Although many people scoff at the subject, the number of authors whose books sell well make the argument communities are built around and supported by shared experiences and perceptions.
Not Like Me
The extraordinary experiences which make each of us unique is another kind of memoir. Recounting of singular stories of survival inspire the awe and admiration of those who could never be in a position to experience or have the fortitude to survive. Ranging from fantastic feats of athletic aptitude to heart-wrenching recollection of war survival, memoirs remind us of the inner strength of the author.
A different flavor of the Life and Times of Being Famous, meme memoirs are on the rise. Fueled by an insatiable appetite for pop culture, those of anomalous celebrity contract writers to pen memoirs about everyday events which otherwise would be of no interest. The flip side is the memoir consisting of the life created by instant celebrity. These often double in the next category.
Creating ones own celebrity is the main purpose for the tattletale memoir. Revealing the author’s side of a publicized event or issue is instantly derisive. Like it or not, arguing will lead to sales from the opposing camp. By design, this memoir tells a very different tale than the one accepted by the populace at large.
Increasingly, memoirs are published after the death of the author. This group is split between autobiographical memoirs and biographical memoirs.
Autobiographical memoirs contain the previously unpublished personal writings of the subject. Occasionally, they are raw journal transcriptions. More often, instead of being a strict autobiography, they are augmented by friends’, relatives’ and colleagues’ reactions to the entries or the death of the subject.
Authors construct biographical memoirs from the collected writings, correspondence and interviews of the subject. The more explosive the nature of the collection, the higher the chance the book will fall into the next category.
The tabloid version of memoir is the unauthorized biography which is based on the subject’s writing or interviews. These books flash brightly as long as there is mainstream or community interest in the subject. They create buzz by baring a part of the subject’s persona or life experience which was protected from public consumption.
Inevitably, the veracity of such books are at issue because had the subject been amenable to supporting the contents, another author’s name would not be on the cover. Most subjects refute having ever written the contents of the memoirs.
What about me?
When deciding to write a memoir, answering a few questions will help you determine where you will fall in the spectrum.
1. Which type of memoir are you writing?
Like Me authors need to investigate the market saturation to decide if their experiences (and hence memoir) are memorable enough to shine in the sea of others like it.
Unlike Me authors will need to create an audience for their books. Although the experience is not one the author shares with many, creating an audience is more than picking a point of view. Who will be interested in reading about the experience?
2. Which point of view are you using?
POV can make or break a memoir. First-person, simple past is the most common point of view for memoir. The less common choice of first-person, present is beginning to take hold, as readers find themselves more willing to inject themselves into the events as they unfold. By giving readers the opportunity to be in the midst of the story, they are more likely to reflect on how they would have acted in the given situation.
Rather uncommon is third-person, omniscient. The out-of-body delivery allows readers to be an onlooker as well. It opens the door for both author and reader to pass judgment on the actions of the subject. This perspective can exhibit shame or diffuse what would otherwise convey as conceit.
3. Will this end your career?
Tattletale memoirs are often the last successful book authors pen. Due in large part to the animosity conjured by opposing the accepted, these authors are subsequently dismissed as attention-seekers. Even when subsequent research and books uphold the tattletale’s version of the story, the damage is already done.
Although today’s memoir landscape is different, many readers still cling to the ideal memoirs should not be an ongoing income stream. Typically, Life and Times memoirs are about the entire life of the subject; ergo, once a memoir is written, the author’s life in the public limelight (should read important enough to draw a reader’s interest) is at a close.
4. Does it pass the sniff test?
As with fiction, a riveting story is a must. Remember our oatmeal eater? Did you put the eclectic contents of your blog into a book to make money? Does your book offer some value (humorous presentation, ethical lesson, philosophy for better living)? Is it a cohesive story or a rambling collection of tall tales someone found interesting and commented You should write a book!?
5. What do you want your memoir to accomplish?
This tricky question may need to be the first. If the main purpose of writing your memoir is to tell someone, it will fall into only one category:
A. Writing a memoir is cheaper than psychotherapy.
B. Someone can benefit from what I write.
If your answer is A, consider a diary or a blog. If your answer is B, you might just be a memoirist.
Have you ever considered writing a memoir? Have you read a memoir? Which type do you like the best?
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