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Writing a Memoir: How to Craft a Compelling Story

How often do you read memoirs? Perhaps, you enjoy an inside look into life stories and getting the full reading experience from learning about other people's lives, particularly those you respect and admire.

Or, you might be thinking about writing your own memoir. Either way, you ought to learn more about how writing memoirs work and how it's done well.

Your Life Story: How to Write Your Own Memoir

Writing a memoir is all about learning how to tell a compelling story based on a real-life story structure that took place, but in a way that attracts the reader's attention.

You might have some amazing stories to share, but without the proper story structure and tone, you might not get the memoir or writer's life experiences overview that keeps your reader's attention from start to finish.

Have you ever tried to tell a most interesting family story only to realize that it's not coming out the way it should?

Telling a story isn't like giving an interview. Family experiences, life experiences, and adventures you had require a proper, compelling story structure to set up the reader's attention for the type of emotional truth you're trying to tell, but in a way that makes them understand where your powerful story is coming from.

To do that, you need to first learn how to write a great memoir outline like a true writer who's been story-telling their whole life.

Before your story gets summed up in the outline, understand that writing a great memoir isn't the same as writing an autobiography.

Writing a Memoir VS. Writing an Autobiography

Writing a memoir outline should be based on gathered experiences from your own life.

While your autobiography focuses on your life experiences or major events, a memoir writer's life work revolves around a theme.

Powerful memoirs are born when a memoir writer chooses a theme on which writing a memoir focuses. That theme is also a central focus of your outline, while more detail is added later in the writing process.

How to write a memoir outline | Writing a Memoir

How to Outline a Memoir

Every good book begins with a thorough outline. When writing a memoir, you too should have an outline that tells your story through the lens of a particular theme.

Unlike laying out stories in an autobiography, each scene, character development, and plot in your memoir focuses on sharing a particular experience that goes with your theme and sends the type of message that you want to send.

With that in mind, check out different memoir examples and pay attention to the two following essential elements:

  1. How scenes, story, and character development relate to the main theme.

  2. What message is being sent through those scenes, and how does it correlate with the theme?

What Is The Purpose of a Memoir?

Now that you know what is a memoir and you've seen some writing of memoir examples, it's important to keep in mind why you're doing it in the first place.

An entire book written about your experiences should have a clear purpose in mind, or else you might not be able to write a memoir in such a way that captures the reader's attention and convinces them that your memoir is important to read.

When turning the page, a memoir should make the readers identify with you and your characters.

This means that you need to create an understanding of not only the turning points in your life, but also why your particular family, work, or health experiences relate to the reader's own experiences.

The very purpose of the writing process is to take the reader through a transformative journey of learning, growing, or healing, and to contribute to the world's legacy of recorded history.

In that sense, the best memoir examples include those that many readers found to be transformative in nature.

There's something important to learn from them, from life experiences to a few tips about life, body language for success, or rising to power while taking care of an entire family.

Successful memoir writers do this "play-by-play," and they end up self-publishing memoirs that astound readers with an incredible narrative arc even though they never gained education on self-publishing before they started writing.

What Kind of Memoir Are You Writing?

With all this in mind, there are different types of memoirs. Different types all use different tones, personal story arcs, main character development, and outlook on life, as well as story structure, tone, and style.

When you're about to start writing memoirs and before you finish your first draft, choose between the following:

Personal Memoir

Personal memoirs focus more on your personal details within a limited time segment (e.g. Angela's Ashes). A personal memoir tells a single, defining experience in your life.

However, these memoirs aren't just a list of personal experiences. They're written in ways that help the reader directly relate to the author.

People write a memoir when they wish to focus on the reasons why a particular event occurred and what they learned from it, as well as what life lessons from the event they used to change their own lives afterward.

You don't need a particular personal memoir outline template for your memoir story to come out neat and polished.

You should instead focus on the key elements of memoirs, like theme, message, structure, and character arcs.

Confessional Memoirs

Writers create a memoir from a confessional standpoint when they wish to share their own experience in a particular event through first-person recollections of actions and events that took place in an effort to tell the whole truth about the event.

These memoirs represent a true story that's been told from an angle of a single person, much like an extremely lengthy blog post.

In it, the person has the right to present events the way they think they should and offer lessons learned from their stories. However, this doesn't always have to align with what other people believe to be the truth.

Portrait Memoirs

These types of memoirs are written about a person by someone who knew them well their entire life. However, for good memoir writing, it's necessary that the person documented the events in their life thoroughly.

A great example of portrait memoirs are those based on people's diaries, often from the vantage point of their best friend or a family member.

Professional Memoirs

Professional memoirs help readers understand how one's career developed. They're stories about how a particular person rose to success, and it focuses on the author's professional life.

However, professional memoirs aren't only about one's professional life. They too need to have a story arc and tell a story of one's career growth through the lens of their personal experience.

Professional memoirs belong to the category of a non-fiction book, for it is extremely important that writers save time on being inspirational and instead focus more on offering truthful, educational information for which best memoirs are known.

Writing a Memoir VS. Writing an Autobiography | Writing Memoir Books

Transformational Memoir

You'll find a transformational memoir to be the book most confused with self-help books, which isn't its initial purpose.

An author who writes a transformational memoir most often didn't go to school and learn self-publishing, so they often need an extra hand to tell stories that changed their life.

Most people start writing transformational memoirs to tell a story of how they grew up and overcame certain obstacles, such as illness, war, abuse, or addictions.

Writers often write transformational memoirs in present tense when they describe how certain routines and practices affect their lives in the current time.

Travel Memoirs

This type of memoir isn't one that tells a person's whole life but instead focuses on particular life events and adventures that took place while traveling.

In this memoir, a writer can write about unique situations they faced when visiting foreign countries, climbing a mountain, and dealing with unconventional weather, culture, and personal circumstances.

Knowing what type of memoir you wish to write helps focus your stories in ways that best serve your message. That way, the reader will get what matters the most to you and to them about the book.

Writing a Memoir Outline Example: 7 Key Elements of a Memoir

You might need help when outlining your memoir because it needs to tell your story wrapped up in the following typical niche template:

1: Memoir Message: Why do Authors Write Memoirs?

Why might someone write a memoir?

Before you start writing your memoir, write up a clear message that you wish to send. For this, ponder a while on the question of why people usually choose to write a memoir.

The short answer is because they have a story to tell, so be really honest with yourself about your story, why it matters to you and the reader, and why it's beneficial for your reader to learn from it.

2: Memoir Theme: What Will Your Memoir Be About?

To write a memoir worthy of reading, it has to have a compelling theme. Think about the common threads of stories that you're trying to tell.

What will they be about for your readers? Most great memoir pieces have an underlying philosophy that's then reflected in the tone, style, characters, and stories.

That way, the theme of your memoir stays consistent throughout the writing, and your readers can sense the appealing vibe that drove them in the first place. Now, focus a little bit on the theme itself, and research the best ways to write about it.

Research which structures, narration elements, and language intricacies work best with the particular topic that you chose to write about. Write down notes about the type of language to use and ways in which to tell the story that are most cohesive with the theme.

3: Lay Out the Most Exciting Stories and Events in Your Memoir

Now the fun part truly begins, and you get to choose how the reader will go through your story.

At times, chronological is the best order, but not always. Some writers also choose to take their readers through an exciting journey that starts from the ending and goes back to the source.

Or, take take the reader on an adventure by describing the most exciting events through the narrative arc of a less interesting event, like a trial or an interview.

4: What Do You Expect From Your Powerful Memoir?

Before you head to write your memoir, write down clear expectations that you have from the manuscript.

How do you want to feel when the work is over? How do you want the reader to feel when they're done reading? Keep all of this in mind when telling your story.

5: What Are Your Boundaries When Telling a Story?

Ask yourself if people really need to know that a person had a gut parasite infection before their first art exhibition.

Some things are better left unsaid, so consider which events and stories you'd wish to skip.

Some parts of your story may be very interesting to you, but ask yourself if your readers would find them particularly exciting.

Also, ask yourself if the stories all contribute to the reader having a clear picture of the message you're trying to send. If a story has a purely anecdotal role, and it doesn't contribute to the overall theme, perhaps it would be best to cut it out.

6: List Stories, Characters, and Events By Chapters

Now that you have all of your stories, messages, characters, and development arcs for your readers to follow, it's time to organize them all in chapters and create a layout that best tells your story. Always keep the reader in mind when doing this.

Readers' experience should be the same as eating a delicious meal. It's not about telling them the exact ingredient list and the recipe you used. A reader will enjoy the exciting blend of flavors that follow one another, much as your chapters should.

7: Draft Titles

Your memoir isn't a textbook or a manual. It's a pleasurable read from which your readers expect excitement. Titles should intrigue and entice the reader, but still, have a logical connection with their reality.

Most writers, including those who are writing a memoir, draft titles and heading once in the beginning, and then once they're done writing, make sure that their titles are in the best possible shape.

For starters, you can write up rough sketches of your titles, and then use up all the remaining creative juices when the work is finished to make them glorious.

8: Start Writing!

Now comes the time to get to writing a memoir as you've wanted for so long. With a clear structure outline in front of you, your mind can now rest on the reader experience as you find the best ways to tell your story.

Imagine that you're telling the story to a stranger for the first time as you're writing because that image of a stranger is a good reflection of how your reader will react.

Always keep in mind that people need reasoning to care about certain stories, and think about the best writing techniques to spark their interest. Your reader is the ultimate judge of your work.

If you lose reader interest at the very beginning of your book, chances are that your memoir won't get the readers' attention it deserves.

how to outline a memoir | Writing a Memoir

How to Structure Your Memoir

Now, it almost feels like you’re ready to start writing your memoir, doesn’t it? Not just yet! Before you dive into writing, there’s a bit more for you to learn about how to structure your memoir correctly. Your story is unique, and the memoir serves as a way to present it to readers.

As such, a memoir requires the right structure so that the reader receives the message correctly and for the book to create the emotional impact that you’re trying to achieve with your theme.

For that, it’s important to choose the right book structure for your memoir. Choose between the following structures:

1: Linear Chronological Structure

With this, the most common memoir structure, you are essentially your book’s main character and the narrator. The book is structured so that you share your recollection and viewpoint of certain events and experiences in the exact order in which they occur.

The chronological structure is easiest to work with, but a linear narrative takes a bit of extra effort to make the story more even and interesting.

You see, readers expect each book they read to have an exposition, culmination, and resolution, as in any other book, so a chronological story might feel a bit off for them.

However, you can try and make sure that the events you’re talking about are covered in such a way that gives each story a culmination and a resolution. This gives readers a sense of adventure and keeps them wanting to learn more.

2: Thematic Structure

With this type of memoir structure, you layout events by themes instead of in a linear or any other order. For example, you can dedicate some chapters to your love life, and others to career development.

However, there should still be some general theme that’s common to the entire structure and all stories, as this is necessary for readers to get that authentic recognizable feeling of a unique book universe that everyone is looking for.

3: Switching Past With Present Narration

Switching times in which your story unfolds is very interesting as it gives you the opportunity to surprise the reader, and also show them how seemingly unrelated events all led to one important moment in your life.

Let’s say you rescued a person from drowning.

If you just wrote about jumping in the river to help a drowning person, you’d be applauded for that, but the reader wouldn’t have much emotional interaction with the story.

But, if you paralleled that scene with the one from your past when either you had a similar experience or watched someone drown, and now you were able to make a difference, you get a much more impactful reader experience.

The reader would then get to feel how both experiences shaped your growth and affected your life moving forward.

4: Conflicting Memoir Structure

If you’re writing about how certain events negatively affected your life, you can structure your memoir in such a way as to better explain how an external stressful situation resulted in an inner conflict.

That’s a good opportunity to show several different sides of your personality or a situation you’re describing in your book.

It also gives your audience better insight into what made you act destructively, and what led to some of your unhealthy, unfair, or dangerous behaviors.

As you can see, you have many different ways to tailor your memoir at your disposal. The question is: What will work best for your unique story?

Need Assistance from Best Memoir Writers? Let Us Know!

So much goes into writing a successful memoir.

You need to think about the purpose of your book, the message you want to send, the theme, structure, characters, language, and so much more.

Detail is needed when creating the first draft of your memoir, after which you need to make a careful selection of the content that will remain in its final version.

Let a Professional Help You Write Your Memoir!

Do you need help with writing your memoir?

Have some of our most talented professionals assist. At The Urban Writers, we've trained our freelancers to write successfully in all sorts of different niches and genres of both fiction and non-fiction writing.

Post Your Memoir Writing Project!

If you need help with writing your memoir, all you need to do is log on to our platform, create a job post, and start discussing your ideas with our freelancers.

Our expert admin team will take you through the process, while our writers apply and pitch their samples for you to review their style and tone.

At The Urban Writers, you have the opportunity to choose the writer who will write your memoir.

You can look at their profile, and then interview them using private messages.

You can invite freelancers whose profiles you like to apply for your project, all while those writers who already like your idea send in their applications.

Then, you can begin to narrow down your choice to those few freelance writers who you like best and only pay for your order once you've selected a writer whose style and tone you prefer.

Our collaborative platform lets you track the writer's work at all times.

You'll get to see what content the writer is adding to your document and the progress they're making every step of the way!

Since memoirs are quite personal, you might have different ideas about how certain chapters should look than your writer does.

In that case, you can leave comments and feedback so that the writer can follow your lead and produce just the kind of content you're looking for!

Once the writing is finished and you approve the written work, your memoir draft will then go into editing, where our professional editors will check it sentence by sentence to ensure that the entire manuscript is in optimal shape!

Outsource memoir writing now, and let us help your story rise to glory!

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