Until recently, the words autobiography and memoir were distinctly separate, though similar, words that described the first-person, written depiction of the author’s life. For hundreds of years, as the popularity of sharing life stories has grown, the two forms have co-existed in playful harmony.
If you’re reading this post, chances are you might be confused about the similarity between these two terms. It seems that people these days often use the two words interchangeably – a real disservice to the form and function of the delicate, but mighty, memoir. Well, fear not, gentle reader, because today is the day that the record will be set straight, once and for all, about the memoir and why it deserves its own place in everyone’s vocabulary!
If we are going to investigate the difference between these two types of story, it’s best to begin at the beginning, which, of course, is the basic structure of the memoir. Unlike its autobiographical counter-part, which could span an entire lifetime, the memoir is a narrower, more personal, approach to the story of its writer’s life. Consider the memoir as a series of snapshot from an entire photo album or a few scenes from a full-length movie.
Being narrower does not necessarily mean less content. The benefit of a memoir is that the story can be more focused on a certain aspect or significant event of the writer’s life. This will allow the writer more opportunity to reflect on the emotional aspects of their life rather than just the straight facts without creating a book that could rival the Greek epics. The memoir has been a vehicle for written accounts of wars by soldiers, businesses by CEOs, tell-alls by celebrities and much, much more!
The autobiography often includes more intricate details involving the family history and writer’s upbringing that might not necessarily have a direct effect on the major events of their life. This choice is generally for a writer who wants a broader narrative account of their lives or, perhaps, that feels a thorough understanding of their childhood is essential to their life story. This approach benefits from, or is detracted by, the amount of minute detail. This could include: the date and birthplace of your great-great-grandparents, when your grandparents moved to a new town and bought their first house or even the history of your family name.
The choice of whether you want a memoir or an autobiography is entirely up to you and the way that you feel your life will be best represented. If you want to speak about a specific event in your life like Row Smith did with her book, The Earth Moved, depicting her journey of survival after the 2015 Nepal earthquake, then the memoir is a better option for you.
If you want to tell your whole story, or even more, like Brian Tolson did with his book, The Merrybent Kid, then the all-encompassing nature of the autobiography will be a better medium for you. If you are interested in writing it yourself, you can also find out how to write a good biography.
The important thing to remember is that there is a difference!