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Elements of a Memoir

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on 22 September 2015

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Transcript of Elements of a Memoir

A memoir is a piece of autobiographical writing, usually shorter in nature than a comprehensive autobiography. The memoir often tries to capture certain highlights or meaningful moments in one's past, often including a contemplation of the meaning of that event at the time of the writing of the memoir. The memoir may be more emotional and concerned with capturing particular scenes, or a series of events, rather than documenting every facet of a person's life.
Elements of a Memoir
In order to write a memoir you need these FIVE ingredients:
1. one theme
2. frank, honest, intimate writing
3. a fluctuation between scene and summary
4. use and distinction of voice of the narrator and voice of the protagonist
5. reflection
“An autobiography is the story of a life…Memoir, on the other hand, makes no pretense of replicating a whole life…one of the important skills of memoir writing is the selection of the theme that will bind the work together.”
Your memoir needs to be focused. You are NOT cataloging your entire life, but rather, focusing on one aspect of it that has taught you something about yourself.
How to choose a theme:
What do you think about over and over?
What stories of your past haunt you?
Which people from your life are in your thoughts often?
What makes you passionate? Angry?
Frank, Honest, Intimate Writing
Be frank: writing a memoir is a practice in humility—the more you are willing to tell your readers about your short-comings, the more comfortable a reader will feel in your story
Be honest:
There are a few things to consider here…
1. It will be obvious when you are lying or making up stories to make your memoir seem more interesting so you need to be honest…
2. From what we’ve already discussed, memory can be a funny thing—the fact that false memories really exist should give us pause. Embellishing your memories in order to make them concrete for your reader is one thing. Lying about your experiences in order to complete the assignment is another…
3. This is a school assignment and very likely your college essay. Remember that what you write will be a permanent record, so do not write anything that could be incriminating, or that does not seem in line with the rest of the information provided by your application materials.
Be intimate:
Memoirs utilize concrete prose and avoid abstract statements. You develop an intimate atmosphere in your writing by providing as much detail as possible, allowing your readers to step into your shoes and see the world in the same way you did at the time.
Scene and Summary
Your memoir MUST fluctuate between scene and summary. Think of the words in cinematic terms:

• Background details are lost but selected ones are focused and sharp
• Actions occur in real-time
• Dialogue is used
*dialogue should be realistic as possible
*emotions should be written in the dialogue and not in the attributions: “He said” is fine—don’t overdo it with “He said in an angry tone”
Scene = A Close Up
Summary = Long Shot
• Many details are included but no one is more important than another
• Long periods of time can be covered in a short amount of writing
• General thoughts or reflections are recorded in summary
The Voice of The Narrator VS. The Voice of the Protagonist
The best way to establish your voice in your memoir is to write naturally. Don’t try to make yourself sound smarter or funnier than you really are. Just be (write) yourself.
*tone: a changeable aspect of your writing voice.
While the voice should always be yours, it can be angry in one paragraph, ironic in another. This is tone. It is created through word choice.
the unique way in which the author writes.
Narrator: the story teller Protagonist: main character
While you are both the narrator and the protagonist, you need to create a distinction between the way you write when you are narrator and the way you write when you are the protagonist. Basically, the change will occur when you switch from scene to summary.

Scene = voice of protagonist Summary = voice of narrator
Point of View
“The memoirist both tells the story and muses upon it, trying to unravel what it means in the light of her/his current knowledge”
You are writing a memoir for two reasons:
1. to entertain and enlighten your reader
2. to entertain and enlighten yourself
1. separate the reflection
2.blend it with the story/muse as you go
from the story so it acts as an afterthought
How To Reflect:
In order to entertain and enlighten your reader, remember the following:
• Concrete (and not abstract) DETAILS must be included
Concrete nouns: can be experienced by one of the 5 senses (poppies, whisper, bacon)
Abstract nouns: can only be experienced by the mind and are usually judgments or opinions about a thing, not descriptions of a thing (beauty, evil, anger, love)
• Use cultural references to help your reader understand where in time and space your story takes place
For example: movies, songs, historical events, sports, modes of transportation, etc.
In order to entertain and enlighten yourself:
• Pick a theme that you really care about
• Be judgmental of yourself in order to really reflect and learn
Some examples from the past:
The Effects of Parental Distrust
Learning from Mistakes Makes You Stronger
The Loss of Innocence
Survival Against the Elements
Growing Out of My Crazy
Education is a Gift of Opportunity
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