What makes for a great memoir? Here are 5 of my best tips for writing a fabulous memoir!
1. A good memoir requires GREAT writing. There is no shortcut. Study up, learn from the best, and have wise and experienced people critique your work. Try, soak in the responses, revise and try again.
2. Read a bunch of other books similar to the kind of memoir you want to write. You know your own story inside and out, but you might not know how other memoirists tell great stories. Look inside their bag of tricks—where do they speed up and leave things out? Where do they slow down and evoke intricate detail? Do they turn hard stuff into humor? How do they let you cry a bit before whisking you away again in a flurry of action? How do they handle family situations, perhaps hiding or changing identities of family members or friends to preserve privacy? (Hint: writers will often mention this somewhere in the book, or in an interview. Mary Karr talks about this issue in several interviews and podcasts.)
3. Build in twists, turns and surprises. A memoir resembles a novel more than any other form of nonfiction. It might not be a bad idea to take some classes and workshops on writing fiction. Read great novels and pick apart the plots. You will need one for your memoir.
4. Create a cast of characters. Your memoir is not just about one person, because no one lives in a vacuum. Who are the main person’s people? Let’s see them interacting. (And when your memoir gets optioned as a movie, you need a strong group of characters to rope in lots of great actors.)
5. Speaking of characters, make them complex. The people in your memoir, including yourself, are complex and have good and bad sides. Especially the villains! Every villain and every hero has reasons for why they do what they do, and those reasons make perfect sense … to them.