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Memoir How To - Learning to Write Memoir

Updated on April 26, 2013

Yes, you can write a memoir!

Learning how to start a memoir and some of the writing elements that should be included is the goal of this memoir how to. You need the tools to be successful.

Understanding a few things like -- what is memoir, story arc, themes and how to start is necessary to set yourself up for the best possible chance of completing the project.

Let's get to learning -- together!

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Story Arc
Story Arc

Story Arc, Plot, Desire Line -- Oh My!

Memoir How To

Remember high school English class -- themes and research papers? Well, forget them (and the grades you got on them)! They were more in the journalistic style of writing -- reporting facts and quoting other people's work.

Your memoir is about you and you are the only expert on that topic.

The good thing about the memoir genre is it doesn't cover your entire (and, let's face it, sometimes boring) life. You are the editor. You get to choose the time period, event or relationship you will write about. You get to leave out the ho-hum, boring spots. You focus your lens on just one portion, leaving everything else fuzzy and in the background.

Whether you are 20, 40, 60 or 80, there are interesting stories from your life you can share.

Excellent Text for Learning the Craft of Memoir Writing - It's my Bible!

Your Life as Story: Discovering the "New Autobiography" and Writing Memoir as Literature
Your Life as Story: Discovering the "New Autobiography" and Writing Memoir as Literature

Tristine Rainer is an excellent teacher and author. You learn so much from reading this book through the first time. But, the bonus is going back for a 2nd, 3rd or 4th reading. I learn new things each time I read it.

From teaching the basics of what is needed to tell a story, to finding out what kind of story you want to tell, to writing it. This is an all around tool for anyone writing or contemplating writing a memoir.


When you attend parties, reunions or get togethers, the main entertainment is storytelling. People move from group to group sharing funny, sad, happy and unique experiences with each other. Verbal storytelling has become an artform.

Writing memoir is about taking one of those stories and writing it from beginning to middle to end. You will write with more detail and specifics than a cocktail party audience will allow. All the facts and truths are included but it shouldn't read like a police report -- more like a work of fiction or a play.

Image Credit: Memoirist, always remember - Magnet by DecoratingforEvents

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Story Arc

Story Arc
Story Arc

Story Arc -- What is it?

Some like to outline first (me), others prefer to let the story flow as you think of it. Neither way is right or wrong. Just do what feels right to you, just get it on the pages.

Whether you outline first or write first, to truly be labeled as a story, you need to include the basic elements of a story. Most great stories, from fairy tales to sci-fi to memoir, follow the chart above. Let's take a closer look...

  1. Inciting Incident -- Something has to happen. It's not a story if it is same old, same old, day after day. That's just the facts and would be a boring read.

    An inciting incident changes the status quo for the protagonist (you in memoir). It's about change in circumstance, mentally or physically. It launches the story and gives the readers a glimpse of what the memoir is about -- it makes the story take off. Everything that comes prior is just set up.

    The inciting incident usually comes close to the beginning of a story. It's not a story in the traditional sense without one. What comes after the inciting incident is the struggle to right yourself, create a balance that the incident put off balance.

  2. Desire Line -- The inciting incident triggers a decision of action or inaction from the protagonist (you). You now have a Desire Line -- something, someone, mental or physical that you want or need to accomplish. The middle of the memoir is about how you go about trying to obtain that desire, right the wrong or regain the balance shown in the set up or exposition at the beginning.
  3. Problems and Obstacles -- This is the meat of the story. This is where you run into people and things that stand between you and your desire line. Some problems will be small, others will be huge obstacles.
  4. Crisis Point or Climax -- The Crisis Point is reached at the end of the middle or the end of the second act. This is where the protagonist realizes the situation calls for a final decision to be made and leads readers into the 3rd act .
  5. Climax -- The 3rd act contains the climax -- the point in which the decisive event occurs. A decision is made and followed through.
  6. Resolution or Revelation -- After the climax, the resolution or revelation is when the desire line the protagonist has been working towards is achieved or not. In memoir especially, the desire line can change throughout the story while stumbling through the obstacles. Sometimes the resolution is emotional as in realizing you didn't really want what you thought you wanted. Other times it can be physical -- achieving a goal.

Which do You Prefer - When Writing a Story?

Do you outline or just free write when writing a story? (feel free to comment after you vote)

See results

Fiction Writing Techniques that Help with Memoir Writing - Yes... they can make your story come to life for a reader

Writing a compelling memoir with the possibility of mainstream publishing means you need to learn fiction writing tips and techniques to incorporate in your story.

All of these books are great and are in my personal library. I refer to them often. They inspire and help you to create the best story you can!

Memoir How To - Beginning, Middle and End

Again, a traditional story, one that readers can follow along, has a Beginning (Act I), Middle (Act II) and an End (Act III).

The chart above outlines each phase of the story and lists at the bottom what should be included in that portion or phase.

Yes, you can write a memoir!

Quick, a little over a minute, tips about writing your memoir from writing instructor Laura Minnegerode.

Need a Jump Start? - Try One of These!

A blank piece of paper can be intimidating. A journal can make a difference for some people. These journals have questions and statements meant to draw out your stories. You can go back later and see if there is a pattern or theme you want to write about exclusively but they will get you on the road to writing -- everyday!

They are also great gifts to pass down in your family. Don't be forgotten!

Memories for My Grandchild
Memories for My Grandchild

Are you a grandparent? You must of tons of stories about growing up you can share with your grandchildren. They will cherish this journal even if you never write another thing.

The Story of a Lifetime: A Keepsake of Personal Memoirs
The Story of a Lifetime: A Keepsake of Personal Memoirs

This one is written more for yourself. You learn to trigger memories and experiences and write them down for posterity.

The Book of Myself: A Do-It-Yourself Autobiography in 201 Questions
The Book of Myself: A Do-It-Yourself Autobiography in 201 Questions

Another journal about yourself. This one gets you rolling with questions and family history so you can pass it down through the family.

A Mother's Legacy: Your Life Story in Your Own Words
A Mother's Legacy: Your Life Story in Your Own Words

All mother's have so much they wish to share with their kids. Write it down! It doesn't matter if your kids are newborn, in high school or living on their own -- share your thoughts and wisdom in this journal.


You Have to Start!

The most important thing about writing memoir is writing! You have to start. You can always go back and re-write (and you will) to include the elements above.

However, if you never start, you will have no story.

Good luck!

What about you?

Have you ever written a story from your life?

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Memoir Writing Resources

Memoir Definition & Memoir Examples for Anyone
Memoir examples is one way to learn about the genre but it can also open a world of questions for aspiring memoir writers like "What is the definition o...

What is Memoir?
Before you start the journey as a memoir writer, you need to understand the genre, specifically. What is Memoir and the official memoir definition? The Merr...

Memoir Examples | Learn by Example
How do you write a book about your life? Where do you begin? Memoir examples are the best way to understand the genre. You may not have time to read a full ...

Quiz: What is Memoir?
There is much confusion about a memoir definition. People use the words autobigraphy, memoir, biography and creative non-fiction interchangeably. Is that cor...

Writing Your Life - Putting Your Past On Paper -- Writing Tips
How do you write a book? Writing tips for memoirists are very helpful and this book is essential. With it, you can learn by examples -- memoir examples! In ...

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Memoir How To

Memoir Writing

We don't have to be taught to live but writing about our lives takes a bit of practice. I hope you learned something new from this memoir how to!

Are you ready to start a memoir?

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    • profile image

      EstherGCole91 5 years ago

      I agree with you that memoir is the simplest and most interesting form of written story telling.

    • annieangel1 profile image

      Ann 6 years ago from Yorkshire, England

      great info here - big thumbs up

    • BSieracki profile image

      Bernie 6 years ago from Corbin, KY

      i should write some