Memoir: What kind of life makes a good story?

This week in the wonderful #litchat tag on twitter there has been some very interesting discussions about Memoirs. Despite the fact that I do not consider myself a memoir writer I adore reading them. I think that seeing the world reflected through so many different eyes is amazing and inspiring.

One of the questions I found most interesting during these #litchat discussions was from people wondering if their life was interesting enough to write about. ‘Would anyone really want to read about me life? I’ve got to have a hook. There has to be something big that’s happened.’ Well, in my opinion, yes and no.

Yes, something has to have happened and it should be big be to the writer,  but it doesn’t have to be an Earth-shattering event. Yes, many memoirs are based off people doing extraordinary things, but others are based solely off of ordinary people doing ordinary things. What matters is what your reflection of those things means and how a reader can relate to, and understand that.

Some of the most beautiful pieces of memoir work are based on someone observing their own life, putting their own pieces together, and like a jigsaw puzzle, the reader gets to see this story created piece by piece. The reader wants to feel a human connection, wants to feel a part of something. You don’t have to have survived riding a bath tub in a tornado to create that.

Think about your own life, it’s not always the loudest, most exciting moments that are your most profound. It’s usually something a lot quieter, a lot more personal. For me, that is what makes a memoir enjoyable. Yes, there needs to be a story, but there has to be a sense of connection. 

I think what I’m trying to say is best summed up in this beautiful quote:

“In writing…. remember that the biggest stories are not written about wars, or about politics, or even murders. The biggest stories are written about the things which draw human beings closer together.” Susan Glaspell, Little Masks

What makes a memoir for you? What do you enjoy reading in them?

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4 Comments »

  1. Draven Ames Said:

    Good post and good questions. I like your summation. I’ve never read a memoir, so I don’t know what would make one good. Emotions I can relate to and feel, without being told to feel them. That, truth, and pacing. Those seem important to me, if I were to write one.

    • I think all of those are important for a memoir. I think that there has to be a truth to the story, even if it’s just an emotional truth (if that makes sense).

  2. Eric Said:

    I think the most relative memoir moments are the ones that had a profound impact on the person’s life, things that changed their whole direction or outlook. It’s not always the ‘big’ events that matter most.


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