What are some well PLOTTED memoirs?

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hearosvoice

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I'm writing a memoir and I've grown confident in my prose and voice. But I'm very bad at plotting. My instinct is to just write an autobiography and write about everything chronologically starting from childhood. However, I know that ultimately I will have to organize my book and distinguish between what is backstory (and where does that go) and what is the crux of my story.

I was wondering if there were any examples of memoirs with great PLOTS or masterfully sequences and organized in a way that drives the action forward and keeps the reader engaged while deploying backstory appropriately, even if the prose is simple, plain, and perhaps even average.

Any recommendations?
 

Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

My favorite memoir is The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness by Joel ben Izzy. It is well plotted, but also includes a series of folktales interspersed through the narration.

I don't read much in the True Story/Adventure category, but believe that those books would be good too.

Another thing to do would be read first person fiction, because these are masquerading as real stories.

One way to go about it is go ahead and write the autobiography. Then make notes on the side to yourself when you hit a point that really resonates OR simply reread the opus once you're done and decide which bits of your life make the best story material.

Hope this helps.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

gettingby

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This Boys Life by Tobias Wolfe is a good example. Also, more recently, I think Cheryl Strayed tells a good story in her memoir Wild. There are really lots of examples.
 

Treehouseman

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Try "Ugly" by Robert Hoge. It's told pretty much chronologically, and in deceptively accessible language, considering the subject matter.
 

hearosvoice

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Thanks! I happened to have picked up This Boys Life the other day...and someone IRL told me Wild would help too.
 

gingerwoman

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I'm writing a memoir and I've grown confident in my prose and voice. But I'm very bad at plotting. My instinct is to just write an autobiography and write about everything chronologically starting from childhood. However, I know that ultimately I will have to organize my book and distinguish between what is backstory (and where does that go) and what is the crux of my story.

I was wondering if there were any examples of memoirs with great PLOTS or masterfully sequences and organized in a way that drives the action forward and keeps the reader engaged while deploying backstory appropriately, even if the prose is simple, plain, and perhaps even average.

Any recommendations?

I don't think it's "plot" you need for a memoir so much as theme. Novels are plotted, but what you need is a theme. Why are you writing a memoir? What is it about your life that makes it extraordinary, or funny, or heart wrenching? How are you going to market it to an agent, or how are you going to market it direct to readers if you're choosing self publishing? There should be a general overall purpose helping you choose which parts of your life to write about.

I enjoyed Janet Frame's autobiographical trilogy which is now known as An Angel at My Table, although An Angel at My Table was originally the title of the middle book in the trilogy. The prose is certainly not average though.
 
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gettingby

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I don't think it's "plot" you need for a memoir so much as theme. Novels are plotted, but what you need is a theme. Why are you writing a memoir? What is it about your life that makes it extraordinary, or funny, or heart wrenching? How are you going to market it to an agent, or how are you going to market it direct to readers if you're choosing self publishing? There should be a general overall purpose helping you choose which parts of your life to write about.

I enjoyed Janet Frame's autobiographical trilogy which is now known as An Angel at My Table, although An Angel at My Table was originally the title of the middle book in the trilogy. The prose is certainly not average though.

Some memoirs are more plot heavy than others, but they all tell a story. I don't know why you are putting plot is quotes. Memoirs have plots, too. And the above examples I gave are very plot-driven works. The OP was specifically asking about plots in memoirs, and I think it is smart for someone to think about plot when writing a memoir. Theme doesn't really matter. What matters is if the writer is telling a good story. At least that is what I believe, and I have read a lot of memoirs.
 

gingerwoman

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I don't know why you are putting plot is quotes.
Because I think plot is a term we use in fiction, and may not be the correct term when talking about non fiction.
 
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khobar

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hearosvoice

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I have loaded up on a ton of memoirs...the only problem is finding the time to read them lol. I got Wild, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Palimpsest, Darkness Visible, Angela's Ashes, and a couple more i can't even remember atm, lol
 

SusanSommer

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Teaching the Cat to Sit (by Michelle Theall) is just what memoir should be, imho. I also loved Cheryl Strayed's Wild... Another one is Beyond the Bear... by Dan Bigley. And The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific, by Paul Theroux. All have compelling plots and subject matter.

One of the tips that has stuck with me through the years is that autobiography is a story OF a life, while memoir is a story FROM a life. Memoir is typically more focused around one event or theme.
 

Jamesaritchie

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I don't think plot is the right term, either. A memoir tells the story of a portion of your life, and your life is the plot. You don't make it compelling by plot, not even a novel is compelling because of plot, you make it compelling by having a compelling life, and by being able to write extremely well.

All you do in a memoir is tell the story of that one portion of your life, and, as Elmore Leonard said, you leave out the boring parts. Either that portion of your life is compelling, or it isn't. You don't get to mess with the facts, if it isn't, you can only write so well that people keep reading because the writing itself makes it compelling.
 

Emily Winslow

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Well, I'm a few months late joining in, but I feel pretty strongly in disagreement with the last word in this thread. While it's true that you don't choose the facts of the story in a memoir, you do choose where to start, where to end, and which bits in between are relevant. In that way, a memoirist is plotting. Not with the blue-sky freedom of a novelist, sure, but there are still story choices to be made. I think "plot" is a great word for that aspect, in both fiction and non-fiction.
 

rolandogomez

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Memoir isn't just non fiction though - it's an art of turning a series of factual events into compelling story.

Here's an article that might be helpful: http://namw.org/wp-content/uploads/Plot-Structure-and-Theme-in-Memoir.pdf

Thank you for that link, as currently I'm working on a "narrative non-fiction" memoir and even though I've written other non-fiction books, stepping into writing a memoir is a new learning experience for me. The link you provided was helpful as I try to piece together all my writing so far and continue to develop my memoir. You made a difference. Thanks, Rolando
 

mayaone

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I have a different take on this question. I think a memoir must have a plot. It must be true but it must be told in an exciting way. I did not read many memoirs until after my first memoir was published. Of course I did read, "Angela's Ashes" and "I know why the caged bird sings" but I didn't want to read a lot of memoirs because I was guarding my voice and my ideas. I didn't want to be unduly influenced by other albeit successful authors.
Now I am finishing my second memoir having had read many other memoirs and was stunned that my original premise which was to write my memoir like fiction was not a new or bad idea. My idea is to respect my reader by presenting my truth in a readable book. My book was favorably reviewed by a famous author who writes how to books on writing. So, I wrote my new memoir in a similar way. You don't have to call it plotting if that term smacks too much of fiction. But a memoir like fiction must have a theme, dialogue and yes, plotting. This of course is my opinion. Much Aloha
 

gettingby

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I have a different take on this question. I think a memoir must have a plot. It must be true but it must be told in an exciting way. I did not read many memoirs until after my first memoir was published. Of course I did read, "Angela's Ashes" and "I know why the caged bird sings" but I didn't want to read a lot of memoirs because I was guarding my voice and my ideas. I didn't want to be unduly influenced by other albeit successful authors.
Now I am finishing my second memoir having had read many other memoirs and was stunned that my original premise which was to write my memoir like fiction was not a new or bad idea. My idea is to respect my reader by presenting my truth in a readable book. My book was favorably reviewed by a famous author who writes how to books on writing. So, I wrote my new memoir in a similar way. You don't have to call it plotting if that term smacks too much of fiction. But a memoir like fiction must have a theme, dialogue and yes, plotting. This of course is my opinion. Much Aloha

I would say read more memoirs. And some Thoreau and Baldwin. Memoir can come in many forms. Also, I think hearing that a writer has a fear of reading too much is really sad. I think reading as much as you can helps you find your voice as a writer. Reading never hurts any writer!
 

kennyc

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I know this is an old thread, but there is wonderful anthology of Memoir excerpts that I have read several time, particularly in preparation for writing my Growing Up Stories - True Stories of a Brown Dirt Boy some of which are on my blog, but the book is Modern American Memoirs: 1917-1992 Great stuff....from some of the great memoirists! Well worth the read for anyone!
 

Scriptissima

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I think "Around the World in 20 Days" by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones (about their first-ever flight around the world in a balloon and about the obstacles and issues they encountered on the way to starting - and finally completing - their history-making journey) was done masterfully. Obviously, they had a very specific event to cover (including the lengthy preparation), so that will have helped their plotting procedure, but regardless of this obvious advantage, they did a great job in creating a spell-binding read.
 

mayaone

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@Gettingby, I'm sorry I wasn't clear in my reply to this post. I am a voracious reader and always have been. I read many genres of literature and have read Baldwin and Thoreau. I also read and write poetry and prose which is extremely helpful in my writing. What I didn't read during the time that I writing my memoir was the modern memoir. I am reading modern memoirs now and am appreciating the memoir suggestions in this thread. Aloha
 

Jeff C. Stevenson

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Getting back a bit to some of the content of the original query:
---
My instinct is to just write an autobiography and write about everything chronologically starting from childhood. However, I know that ultimately I will have to organize my book and distinguish between what is backstory (and where does that go) and what is the crux of my story.
---

I think the memoir needs to have a "story arc" or "narrative flow" -- maybe that's what we mean by plot.

I know I first wrote my book chronologically (1930s to present day.) I was fortunate to have an editor read the manuscript and tell me, "NO! Start with the most dramatic part of your story to grab the reader's attention, and then back into that event, so we, the reader, will want to find out, 'How did they end up in this cult?'"

It meant a complete re-write but he was (obviously) 100% correct.

So I encourage the OP to find the most "dramatic" part of the story and consider starting there, and then "back into" it, revealing how the person arrived there. It might or might not work for you, but at least it'll give you a place to start.
 

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