what's expected from a memoir?

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Lone Wolf

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Thanks to someone's link on here, I have been reading articles on memoir writing by Marion Roach - https://marionroach.com/twenty-top-tips-for-writing-memoir/
She is firmly of the belief that
Every piece of non-fiction is an argument. ...your argument is what you know after something you’ve been through – say, that peace can be found in your own backyard, or that meditation really does slow down that monkey mind of yours, or that grief is a process that must be gone through slowly, or else you are destined to stay in it forever.
and that everything you write about must help 'prove' that argument. Elsewhere I think she calls it a lesson and her examples make me think of children's stories have a moral.

What do you think of this?

I agree a memoir should be about something - a theme or character development or ?
but I wonder whether memoir really has different requirements to a fiction novel (apart from truth).
Though we may learn something from good fiction, I would think much of modern fiction doesn't have this goal of proving an argument or teaching a lesson, rather of entertainment. Am I wrong? Certainly in all the how-to books and articles I've read on fiction writing, proving an argument or lesson has not been given as a requirement.

So, do you think memoir really has this requirement, and if so, why? Why can't it be written in the same way as a fiction novel, with the main aim to entertain?
Let's take an example from the far end of the scale - a romance novel or an erotic novel - written and read for light entertainment. If a memoir was written that read just like a romance or erotic novel and it entertained the reader, would there be something wrong with that?

Do people only read memoir expecting some great revelation, rather than just a good story? Do people expect more from a memoir than fiction?
(Most of the memoirs I've read have been both less entertaining than fiction and nothing learnt)
 

MadAlice

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I think people do expect certain things from a memoir, because (at least the ones I've seen) are marketed as having a revelation or lesson. Someone writes a memoir about their experiences climbing mountains, people expect to learn about experiences climbing mountains. If someone writes a memoir about surviving childhood abuse, people expect to learn lessons about living with and surviving childhood abuse. Insert drug use, political careers, fixing up old cars, raising children, mental illness, etc. in previous sentences.

At least in my case, if I pick up a memoir, it's because something about the story resonates with me and I want to learn about this person's experiences and apply their lessons to my life, and gain hope through the redemptive arc.
 

Siri Kirpal

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Depends.

Mine were written that way, leading to the message, but that hasn't made them easy to sell.

On the other hand, a lady here called memoiries wrote a light-hearted memoir about how she married a guy she once met in France. (She's from the US.) You could make a case that there was a message, but it was really more of a character arc. That book sold to Sourcebooks.

So...write what you're given to write. That's exactly what memoirs are anyway.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 
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Voodoo Chicken

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I think most people pick up memoir because they want to empathize with the protagonist, apply lessons learned to their own life AND be entertained.

That's not to say there is no such thing as memoir written purely for entertainment purposes. I can think of a few that I have read, but it occurs to me every example I can think of is a book that did not sell well unless the author became famous later for other reasons.

On the other hand, nearly every best selling memoir I can think of has some sort of story goal, climax and resolution to the story with a lesson learned (i.e. narrative structure).
 

mewellsmfu

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Thanks to someone's link on here, I have been reading articles on memoir writing by Marion Roach - https://marionroach.com/twenty-top-tips-for-writing-memoir/
She is firmly of the belief that and that everything you write about must help 'prove' that argument. Elsewhere I think she calls it a lesson and her examples make me think of children's stories have a moral.

What do you think of this?

I agree a memoir should be about something - a theme or character development or ?
but I wonder whether memoir really has different requirements to a fiction novel (apart from truth).
Though we may learn something from good fiction, I would think much of modern fiction doesn't have this goal of proving an argument or teaching a lesson, rather of entertainment. Am I wrong? Certainly in all the how-to books and articles I've read on fiction writing, proving an argument or lesson has not been given as a requirement.

So, do you think memoir really has this requirement, and if so, why? Why can't it be written in the same way as a fiction novel, with the main aim to entertain?
Let's take an example from the far end of the scale - a romance novel or an erotic novel - written and read for light entertainment. If a memoir was written that read just like a romance or erotic novel and it entertained the reader, would there be something wrong with that?

Do people only read memoir expecting some great revelation, rather than just a good story? Do people expect more from a memoir than fiction?
(Most of the memoirs I've read have been both less entertaining than fiction and nothing learnt)

I see memoir as revelatory story-telling. If you are famous or have proximity to famous people or events, you can tell the story from your point of intersection. If you have had a dramatic life or dramatic life event, then you can recount the event and where it took you. But you must be able to tell the story in a way that makes me—the reader—care about it. The best memoir, in my opinion, is beautifully crafted and memorable. It makes me give a damn.

The difference between fiction and nonfiction is that each is precisely what it says it is. If you are writing a memoir, it must be true, otherwise you are writing fiction. Narrative nonfiction is nonfiction written using techniques generally found in fiction. That does not mean you make things up to turn the story into something more entertaining, but by using language as a tool the way literary fiction does.

So, to answer your questions: yes, memoir should be about something, not simply a string of stories only connected because of your presence in them. Those are anecdotes and unless you slept with all of the Beatles or sat at the Algonquin Round Table, I'm not interested in them. No matter what you think, you just aren't all that interesting. Unless, of course, you're an extraordinary writer and have had a revelatory experience/life. Because, even if everyone you meet tells you they can't wait until you write about your life, no one is going to want to read it unless it resonates with them. And your anecdotes, while perfectly great party conversation, likely won't hold up all strung together.

If you can't find memoirs that do this, I suggest you look for some that were well-reviewed and written by non-household names at their inception. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt, A Long Way Gone by Ishmeal Baeh and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls are all wonderful examples of memoir penned by individuals who were not at all famous when they were published.

And I think what people expect from memoir is that it be beautifully written, emotionally satisfying and, above all, true. If you want to hedge that last part, I urge you to visit the history of James Frey.