Three things every memoir should have

I reckon that the terms “intrapersonal intelligence” and “introspection” are germane to a discussion in memoir writing.

When I penned my first memoir in 2017, I thought it was my initial first-hand encounter with the literary form. Wrong, I was. After teaching and studying about memoir, I discovered that I’ve been a memoirist all along, that I have piles of sudden memoirs in my drawers and on Notes app. More than half of my life, I introspect through writing. On paper, I process my thoughts and feelings about a certain event or scene. Sometimes, I even connect it to a fragment of long ago.

In 2018, I began digging for resources about memoir. I learned from Mary Karr, Thomas Larson, Allyson Latta and Ariel Levy among others. Eventually, I noticed three things that (most memoir mavens say) every memoir should have.

1. Self-examination

One of the purposes of memoir writing is to allow you, the writer, to dredge up your deep-seated joys, sorrows, and banality. Meaning, when you narrate your story, you are answering not only the “what happened” question, but also “what happened to you.” It gotta be exposing your process of introspection. You put on paper all your thoughts, feelings, and observations about a particular experience. This helps you face the truth that hey, these exist inside me.

2. Truth

Memoir is creative nonfiction by genre. However creative you wish to go with your memoir, it must tell what happened in real life. It gotta be about the truth, specifically your emotional truth. What is true for you? In your perspective, what occurred on that rainy day when he said he has ceased to love you? Remember, truth is something you owe not only to your reader but also to yourself.

3. Growth

Your memoir must show growth; otherwise, telling your story is senseless. This is what readers subconsciously look for in every memoir. It’s the “gift” that you want your reader to get at the end of your story, the destination to which you’ve led her from the first leaf through the last word of your book. Memoirs tell about life; it’s why not all of them have happy endings, but surely, they show growth. Make the reader feel that the journey is worth-taking with you.

Surprisingly, there is a fourth essential thing – the presence of the memoirist. Regardless of the point of view that the writer chooses to take, the story shall contain herself. Autobiography and biography can go totally factual and erase the “feels” of the subject’s presence. A memoir, however, isn’t a memoir without the memoirist.

“It may follow then that if I feel my core self has been lost or mislaid, I can use the memoir form to locate that person, the writer who through self-examination might know himself…” – Thomas Larson

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