5 Ways To Write About Real People In Memoirs

5 Ways To Write About Real People In Memoirs

Are you worried about including people close to you in your story? In this post, we include five ways to write about real people in memoirs.

Many memoirists are worried about writing about family and friends. They are scared they will hurt people or be sued when they reveal terrible secrets.

But to write a successful memoir, you have to tell the truth.

Anne Lamott says: ‘You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.’

In this post, I’ve included practical tips for writing about real people to help you out.

5 Ways To Write About Real People In Memoirs

  1. Do Not Lie: You can say anything that is true and in the public interest, as long as it is not bound by a non-disclosure agreement. It’s always good to have corroborating evidence if you are writing about a crime. This could be a statement from a witness, like a friend or a therapist, or physical evidence. The only recourse an implicated party has against you is to open a civil case, such as slander. This is not a criminal action so all you need is a reasonable amount of proof and not to prove it beyond a shadow of doubt.
  2. Show What They Do: Let their actions tell a story. Show who they are through their body language, their life choices, their friends, and the consequences of their actions. Don’t make judgements about these. Just describe them.
  3. Let Them Speak: The best way to write about real people is by including dialogue. Tell us what they say. For example, you could say: “At least three times a day, my mother said: ‘You’re not like your brother. He’s got so much life in him.'” You don’t have to judge her or comment on this. Just let it speak for itself.
  4. Make Them Three Dimensional: Don’t frame them only in a negative light. Let the reader make up their own mind. Treat these other people with the dignity and respect with which would like to be treated. Put yourself in their place. Try a little empathy. Forgive them if you can. As Pat Conroy said: ‘But the one thing that surprised me in writing it is that with all the violence we endured, with all the craziness – and my God, my family is nuts – that we survived. And there’s something that moves me every time I get together with any of my siblings. We’ll talk about mom and dad, but there’s something about it that is quite moving to me in the fact that, you know, we have forgiven them.’
  5. Let Go: You cannot control the way people are going to react. If you obsess over it, you will never write your story.

An Excellent Exercise For Writing About real People:

Create a character profile for each of the people you’re going to write about. Use this questionnaire: The Only Character Questionnaire You Need. It will make them seem rounded and believable when you write about them.

The Last Word

You are the only person who can tell your story from your perspective. Tell your truth and use these five ways to write about real people in memoirs.

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a memoir, look into our Secrets of a Memoirist course.

by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson

If you liked this blogger’s writing, you may enjoy:

  1. 10 Tips For Retelling A Classic Tale
  2. Characterisation Exercise: Then & Now
  3. What Are Clichés & Why Should I Avoid Them?
  4. 15 Adjectives To Delete To Strengthen Your Writing Immediately
  5. Why Embracing Your Inner Madness Makes You A Better Writer

If you want to read more about memoirs:

  1. 5 Common Traits Of A Successful Memoir
  2. 6 Differences Between A Novel & A Memoir
  3. 7 Tips For Finding Your Memoir Mojo
  4. 7 Tips From Journalists To Write A Better Memoir
  5. Why You Should Write About This Time

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a memoir, look into our Secrets of a Memoirist course.

Posted on: 22nd February 2021