Memoir vs Autobiography: What’s the Difference?

March 10, 2016
March 10, 2016 Theo Brainin

Memoir vs Autobiography: What’s the Difference?

Memoir vs autobiography. Autobiography vs memoir. What’s the difference? The words autobiography and memoir exist as distinctly separate, albeit similar, words that describe 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.

Chances are you’re confused about the similarity between these two terms – don’t worry, you’re not alone! It seems that people these days use the two words interchangeably – a common mistake! Well, fear not, gentle reader! Let’s set the record straight, once and for all. This is why the small-but-mighty memoir deserves its own place in everyone’s vocabulary!



It makes sense to start 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 snapshots from an entire photo album or a few scenes from a movie. The autobiography, in this case, would be the photo album or entire movie.


Being narrower does not necessarily mean less content. Memoirs focus more on certain aspects or events. This allows the writer more opportunity to reflect on emotional aspects of their life rather than just the straight facts. A memoir is a vehicle for written accounts of wars, businesses, tell-alls by celebrities and many more!


The autobiography often includes more intricate details such as family history. This might not necessarily have a direct effect on the major events of their life. But the choice is generally for a writer who wants a broader narrative account of their lives. Perhaps, a thorough understanding of their childhood is essential to understand their life story. In an autobiography, you can include as much minute detail as you see fit. This could include the date and birthplace of your great-great-grandparents or when your grandparents moved to a new town and bought their first house or even the history of your family name.


Memoir vs autobiography?

Well, it’s entirely up to you. If you want to discuss 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 perhaps a memoir is a better option for you.

You may prefer 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 might be a better option. If you are interested in writing it yourself, you can also find out how to write a good biography.

So, memoir vs autobiography: the important thing to remember is that they are not the same thing!