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Memoir Writing: Basic Elements, Structures, and Types

Grade 8
Aug 18, 2023


A memoir is a narrative written from an author’s perspective about a particular facet of his/her own life. ‘Memoir’ word comes from the French word ‘memoire’, which means ‘memory’ or ‘reminiscence’.

  • An author remembers a pivotal moment in his/her life and recreates specific events through storytelling, even though the content is factual.
  • An author recounts their experiences during a significant period of his/her life, possibly from childhood and family, events connected to career or adventure, etc. specific to one theme.


Night: Elie Wiesel gives an account of how he survived his teenage years at Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps during World War II.

A Movable Feast: Ernest Hemingway tells a story about his time spent as a writer in Paris in 1920 before being famous.

Difference Between Autobiography and Memoir

Autobiography and Memoir

Basic Elements of a Memoir:

  • An emotional journey of the author to connect with the readers
  • Obstacles and overcoming
  • First-person point of view using pronouns I, me, my, etc.
  • A specific theme. For instance, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is a book on writing instructions connected by the larger theme of lessons Lamott has learned about life and faith.
  • Truth
  • Voice – It represents an author’s style of writing. Tone, word choices, syntax, and rhythm in sentences define their voice.

Different Structures of a Memoir:

  • Flashback- Moving between past to present
  • Chronological order- The order in which the event actually happened

Types of Memoirs:

Experience memoir – It usually focuses on:

  • How did the author end up having a particular experience?
  • What obstacles or challenges did an author deal with?
  • What were the author’s feelings during and after the particular experience?

Example – ‘When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who faced a prognosis of terminal cancer at the age of thirty-six, ‘Girl Interrupted’ by Sussana Kaysen writes about her battle with mental illness and stay in a psychiatric hospital for 18 months

  • Event memoir – It focuses on one major significant event in an author’s life.

Example – ‘Into Thin Air: A personal account of the Mount Everest Disaster’ by Jon Krakauer. Author-journalist who was climbing the mountain on the same day that eight climbers were killed.

  • Themed memoir – An author revolves around a single theme and narrates particular events in relation to it. The central events or occurrences that drive the author’s decisions in life, etc.

Example – ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover follows the theme importance of education in life

  • Family memoir – An author focuses on possible different dynamics of his/her family members.

Example – ‘Brother, I’m Dying’ by Edwidge Danticat tells the story of the lives and deaths of two men and the love of their daughters for each of them.

  • Childhood memoir – It focuses on an author’s childhood years and some other specific parts.

Example – In ‘Boy: Tales of Childhood’ by Roald Dahl, the author narrates his childhood period, and recalls his time growing up in England.

  • Travel memoir – As the name indicates, an author covers the description of the place, interaction with different people, and experience of the author at the place.

ExampleEat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert.

  • Celebrity memoir – It covers important moments in an author’s life who is a well-known person.

Example – ‘Becoming ‘by Michelle Obama

Steps to write a memoir:

  • Select the period of time from the memories that you want to write about.
  • Choose the type of memoir.
  • Do check with family and friends and validate your memories and events (we may not remember it all clearly).
  • Structure your memoir in form of a story to make it engaging and appealing. (Plot-Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action and Resolution) with emotions and dialogues.
  • Choose your voice.
  • Proofread your final draft.
Memoir writing


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