5 Common Traits Of A Successful Memoir

5 Common Traits Of A Successful Memoir


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.

A memoir focuses and reflects on the relationship between the writer and a particular time or event in that writer’s life. A successful memoir does this in a meaningful way.

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.

In Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig, the memoirist makes us think about depression, what it does to us, to those around us, and it shows us how the writer learns to cope and stay alive.

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.

In Levels of Life by Julian Barnes, the memoirist writes about the profound grief he felt after losing his wife and the reader cannot help but relate to the emotion.

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.

In Wild by Cheryl Strayed, the memoirist embarks on a 1000 mile solo walk through America and learns that it’s not too late to start again and that you can improve your life.

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.

In Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, the memoirist writes so beautifully, so hauntingly about a poverty-stricken childhood in Ireland that you will never forget reading the book.

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?

Last Word

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:

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