Personal memoirs have grown in popularity over the years and become one of the most popular reading genres. Many personal memoirs have won awards for their poignant ability to portray an individual’s struggles and triumphs. To write a successful memoir, you can’t simply relay your memories around a particular event or period in your life.
The focus of a personal memoir should be on GROWTH. How you’ve grown and changed due to the events you’re writing about. Readers don’t want a static story; they want to learn from your own experiences and apply what they’ve learned to their own lives.
Don’t Make it a Pity Party
Suppose you’re writing a cathartic personal memoir about a traumatic childhood. In that case, it’s understandable to want to complain but resist the temptation to turn a compelling story into an attention-seeking bid for sympathy. A well-written memoir will naturally evoke sympathy in others. Making a direct bid for by trashing others doesn’t work and will turn people off.
As an example, read these two versions of a single event:
- My stepmother’s anger loomed large. Although I’d tried my best to make sure the house was clean and tidy, I’d somehow fallen short. Her lips pursed with disdain as her eyes slowly surveyed the room. I imagined what she saw – the vase on the mantel ever-so-slightly turned away, the throw pillow at the wrong angle. I knew I’d disappointed her by the loathing in her eyes.
- Mary was a horrible person when she looked around and showed her dissatisfaction with my housekeeping skills. She checked every minor detail and then complained. My stepmother was a nasty, unpleasant woman obsessed with perfection.
The first paragraph conveys the moment beautifully and lets the readers draw their own conclusion about the character. The second paragraph reads like a complaint from a disgruntled employee.
Focus on How Events Changed You in a Personal Memoir
As readers progress through your personal memoir, they should experience how you’ve changed and evolved as a result of the incidents you write about. Not every incident will lead to an epiphany, but the cumulative effect of your experiences should be your growth as a person.
The journey may be toward gaining emotional strength, coming to terms with your sexual identity, moving toward forgiveness of those who have hurt you, or even discovering your purpose in life. Any of these are signs of personal growth and your evolution into the person you’ve become. This is what makes personal memoirs so compelling. They reassure readers that no matter where you start, you can grow and move toward something better. They have the chance to develop and become a better person because you did.
Your memoir is the story of how and why people and events have shaped you. But more importantly, it is the story of how you evolved as a result of your past.
Dudley Court Press
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