If you’re writing your life story, use this short checklist to find out if you’ve included the five common traits of a successful memoir.
Writing a memorable memoir will take a lot of thought and application.
In this article, I have included five traits that I believe make up a successful memoir – one that people will remember after they’ve finished reading your book.
5 Common Traits Of A Successful Memoir
1. Drama – It Entertains You
It is the memoirist’s duty to make the memoir come alive for the reader. To do this, we have to focus on the dramatic parts of the story. All the days you spent thinking about things, feeling things, and wondering about things are mostly going to be left out of the story. As Isaac Bashevis Singer says, ‘The full tale of any life would be both utterly boring and utterly unbelievable.’
There is nothing more boring than a consistently introspective story. We have to show what happened to us as well as what we thought about it. Drama uses tension to create a sense of heightened emotion in relatable human experiences.
In Dead Man Walking by Helen Prejean, the memoirist keeps you on the edge of your seat, wondering if a death penalty appeal will be successful.
Exercise: Make a podcast about the story you want to write. Then listen to it. Have you bored yourself?
Suggested Reading: Why You Need To Write Your Memoir Like Fiction
2. Relevance – It Makes You Think
Readers of memoirs want to relate to the story. They want to find a resonating relevance to the story in their own lives. This does not mean they have gone through the same things you have. It means that they can relate to the emotions and situations the memoirist feels and encounters with regard to a specific situation. To do this, we have to focus on a theme in our memoir.
Suggested Reading: Writing A Memoir? Narrow Your Focus
Exercise: Make a list of your top five memoirs. Did they make you think? Write down five tips that you can use in your own memoir.
3. Authenticity – It Makes You Feel
Readers want to feel a connection. The memoirist should create an intimacy with the reader. This requires vulnerability on the part of the writer. It requires an honest account of what happened in your life.
Exercise: Make a list of your top five memoirs. Did they make you feel something? Can you do the same in your own memoir?
Suggested Reading: Why First Person Present Tense Is Perfect For Your Memoir
4. Character Arc – It Makes You Learn
Is the memoirist the same person at the end of the story? They should not be. Readers want to see a change in the emotional, and maybe even the physical, makeup of the writer.
Exercise: Make a list of your top five memoirs. Did the character change? List 10 ways that you will change over the course of your memoir.
Suggested Reading: 5 Essential Tips For Writing A Memoir
5. After Effect – It Makes You Remember
If readers can remember the theme or the emotions a memoir evoked in them, the memoir has been successful.
Exercise: Make a list of your top five memoirs. Why do you remember them? Can you use some of the lessons in your own story?
If you want to learn how to write a memoir, look into our Secrets of a Memoirist course.
by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson
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If you want to read more about memoirs:
- 6 Differences Between A Novel & A Memoir
- 7 Tips For Finding Your Memoir Mojo
- 7 Tips From Journalists To Write A Better Memoir
- Why You Should Write About This Time
- 7 Ways To Outline Your Memoir (& Why You Should Definitely Do It)
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