Four ways to improve your memoir writing and tell your story in the way that readers crave.
Hundreds of memoirs are published in the United States every year. These collections of memories shine light on the lives, loves and deeds of their writers and often delight, captivate and inspire their readers. But with all of those memoirs out there competing for the attention of readers, how can you make sure that your own memoir stands out on the proverbial bookshelf?
Today I’d like to share a few writing tips that can help you to craft a better memoir that readers will love.
#1. Write a Relatable Story with Universal Appeal
Ask yourself: Is my memoir relatable to readers? Do they understand the general neighborhood of where I’m coming from? Do they have a reason to keep reading, and to care about what happens, all the way to the end of my book?
If you want readers to connect with your story, then make sure that your memoir transcends your own life to achieve universal appeal.
As one example, not everyone can drop everything and move across the world for someone, and many people won’t identify with that situation per se; however, almost everyone can relate to concepts like love and family, and the idea of sacrificing something for the person or the people that you love.
Write your memoir so that it illuminates the way to a universal story.
#2. Write a Novel, Not a Journal
Ask yourself: Is my memoir written like a novel? Does it contain elements of mainstream storytelling that readers will recognize? Do my characters grow? Is there a recognizable conflict? Is there a story arc? Will readers be entertained by the story my memoir tells?
A memoir intended for publication and to broadly appeal to a general audience should be written like a novel, and not like a personal journal or a newspaper article.
Writing a memoir in the stylistic tradition of a novel is uniquely suited to bringing the memoir’s theme and its characters to life, and more easily draw readers in. Only this type of narrative writing can create the necessary scaffolding to achieve that old writer’s maxim of “show, don’t tell.”
It doesn’t matter if you’ve only started to plan your memoir, or if you’re already holding a first draft in your hands. Take the time to review your memoir’s writing style and structure. See how it stacks up against the flow of a novel and work to improve it accordingly.
#3. Curate, Curate, Curate!
Ask yourself: What is the point of my memoir? Do the episodes I portray and the details I give support the narrative? Do I include too many irrelevant parts?
A memoir isn’t an autobiography, thoroughly charting a person’s path in life from birth up until now. Instead, a memoir is a collection of true memories about a particular theme of some kind.
Because you were there, it can be tempting to add more information than your narrative calls for. However, a good memoir is intelligently curated and faithfully reproduces only the story that you’re trying to put together for your readers.
As a writer, I know it can be hard to pare down sentences or even cut out whole chapters, but you’ll need to do it for the sake of your finished book.
Take a critical eye to each piece of your memoir. If it doesn’t support the narrative, then it has to go!
(That said, I’m no Marie Kondo. Save the cutting room floor scraps, as they might come in handy for future reference or inspiration, even if they aren’t useful for your memoir right now.)
#4. Lose the Fear and Write Honestly
Ask yourself: Am I afraid to admit my faults, mistakes or weaknesses? Am I objective enough to be considered a relatively credible narrator in the eyes of my readers?
Memoirs are often vulnerable pieces of writing and the product of much reflection on the part of the memoir writer. However, readers crave a delicate balance from their narrators: neither someone who refuses to admit their faults, nor someone who can’t stop talking about their faults.
Readers don’t expect you to always be the hero; they simply expect you to be human. Humans are often full of complexities, fears and hypocrisies in amounts often equal to their courage, kindness and generosity.
Of course, no person can be truly objective when it comes to themselves and their experiences. So review what you’ve written. And as you write on, strive to be honest, transparent and credible. Your readers will love you for it all the more.
However, if you think you need an extra pair of eyes, or some more objective guidance as you continue to write your memoir, then we can help.
Dudley Court Press
Dudley Court Press works with writers like you every day. As a full-service, hybrid publishing house, we help thoughtful people write their books and become successful published authors.