View Full Version : Advice Writing Memoir?

01-07-2008, 03:36 AM
My girlfriend is going to be writing my memoir/biography. I'm wondering about the tone she should use for writing it. Should she talk about me specifically in third person throughout the book or is it recommended she write more from my perspective as though she is speaking as me?

What do you prefer to read when you pick up a book about someone who has overcome insurmountable odds to live a productive and successful life? I've yet to see a story quite like mine so I'm hoping there is an audience willing to read about it.

Thanks in advance for the advice!

01-07-2008, 05:27 AM
If she is writing a story about you, it's a biography. Normally, biography is told from the third person.

If, on the other hand, she is a ghostwriter pretending to BE you, that is autobiography, a first person account.

Why is your girlfriend doing this, and not you? Stories by the actual person always have more impact. If someone had written a book about me, I doubt if anyone would have published it. But my story, in my own words, was a bestseller.

01-07-2008, 07:24 AM
I know the differences between biographies, autobiographies and memoirs. I just wanted to know if people preferred to read books that are ghostwritten (first person) or written in third person as more of a biography.

I don't want to write a novel. I'm not that kind of writer. I'd rather she tell my story merely because it is a story people need to hear. She's a better writer than I am. I would much rather she write the book for me. I am more interested in writing screenplays. Film is my real passion. Still, I feel this would be best told in novel form and I find it therapeutic for us to share the journey of writing this together (her at the writing helm while I provide the source of information for the story).

My story is very painful and personal. It'd be draining to write it alone.

01-07-2008, 07:47 AM
You've got to be careful with that. First person stories are almost always better received. But if someone else writes a first person story for you, you could be subject to criticism and even ridicule if that's found out.

As to casting it as a novel . . . if it's true, your chances of publication are far greater for a true story. If you make it a novel, you probably decrease your book's marketability by a factor of ten.

As a novel, the only thing you sell is the plot and quality of writing/storytelling. As a memoir, there is a substantial draw to something that's real. I'd think carefully before abandoning that.

01-07-2008, 04:51 PM
You say your story is "painful and personal," about "overcoming insurmountable odds to live a productive and successful life."

Memoir written about such a life has tremendous power because it is a true testimony. Readers hear, "He did it. I can do it too!" Novels lack credibility for the sheer fact that they are fiction. Fictional characters can do anything: leap tall buildings with a single bound, fend off bullets with bare hands. Even if it is positioned as "based on a true story," you don't know what parts are true.

No, if you want this to have impact on readers, go for memoir.

You also mention the value of sharing and working through this story together with your girlfriend. How about this approach: You write the drafts and get the story on paper. She can be your coach, editor, and chief cheerleader.

Writing this sort of story has enormous value, even if it never gets edited or read by a single other person. Once you start writing memories, fitting them together into a coherent story, you begin to see relationships between events in new ways. You begin to question your assumptions and perceptions about how and why things happened. You find new meanings, new blessings in old traumas. You may find your heart lightening as you forgive old foes and grudges flee.

Write this story for yourself, share it with her, and let the pieces fall where they will. Don't worry about literary value until you're done. Write this to heal. Even if you don't feel the need for healing, you are bound to experience some.

01-07-2008, 10:35 PM
I misused the word novel. I didn't know anyone would take it literally. I used it in the sense (non-fiction novel - really long book). It is a true story and I wouldn't write it as fiction. Of course, getting into the technicality of the term non-fiction novel, she wouldn't be writing anything like that. I just meant she was interested in writing my book and rather than say book I substituted it incorrectly with the word novel.

I am more of the type to edit the work she does as opposed to her editing my work, so I don't think it'd be good for me to write the drafts. I was just wondering about whether the approach to telling the story should be more personal (first person) or biographical (third). That was my question.

01-08-2008, 08:29 AM
It moight help to pick up a copy of Alex Haley's The Autobiography of Malcolm X. He interviewed malcom X, and wrote the autobiography in first person, while making it clear that this was the agreement between them. It's a hell of a book, with all of the emotional impact of a memoir, yet written by the interviewer. At the end of the book, Malcolm is murdered, so Haley has to finish the book without him. He did a beautiful job of combining Malcolm's exact words with his own experiences as the interviewer, and their relationship and respect for each other deepened as the book progressed. It's a great read, and the format might work for you and your girlfriend's writing goals as well as your relationship.

I always thought that in the future, when I have time (hyuk hyuk) it would be fun to write an autobiography of someone with this format. There are many interesting people who have great stories to tell, yet don't have the skills or time to tell them. Conversely, there are many good writers who wish for dream writing jobs to fall into their laps. This format meets both those needs.

01-08-2008, 09:33 AM
It is almost impossible to sell a biography of someone who is not famous. Memoirs, on the other hand, require only an interesting life story.

Memoirs should be in the first person. If your girlfriend is doing the bulk of the writing of your first-person story, then the credits should read {You} as told to {girlfriend}.

01-08-2008, 09:10 PM
If you are collaborating on this project for fame and fortune, you may be better off buying lottery tickets . If you are collaborating on the project for the joy of insight, growth, healing and self/other discovery, go for it, without delay. If it's meant to "be out there," that will happen. If not, the other benefits make the project worthwhile.

Do it for yourselves first. Stories generally dictate their own form once you get started.