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  • Shelagh Clancy

What Makes a Memoir Fun to Read?

Some people have fascinating stories that make riveting memoirs. But everyone has a story, and some people are better than others at telling it.

Frank McCourt, Mary Karr, and Anne Lamott wrote spellbinding memoirs that topped the bestseller lists. It’s no accident that these skilled writers write compelling memoirs. They follow a formula that gives their life story a structure, and that makes it fun to read.

Use a traditional story arc

Most stories are about transformation, and writing your memoir in this classic format will give it a familiar structure, easily understandable to your readers—and exciting.

Make an outline of your story: the problem, the struggle, and the resolution. (Sometimes a prologue is necessary to establish the lay of the land.) Each scene of your memoir will contribute to showing how you encountered difficulty, struggled to overcome it, and resolved the problem.

Meet the biggest change in your life

Choose the most challenging time in your life to write about. Think about the important events and changes that have made a difference for you, and use these to develop your outline.

Some people have an obvious dramatic event in their lives such as emigration, an illness or death, or an abusive relationship. But favorite themes also include falling in love, coming of age, and achieving financial success.

Choose an important part of your life you want to feature in your memoir.

Leave these parts out

We all have fun scenes from our lives that make good stories. Sadly, not all of these will make it into your memoir—some are destined to be told again and again at family dinners. Only the scenes that help show your theme of transformation—of the problem, the struggle, and the resolution—can be kept in your memoir. Otherwise you lead the reader up a blind alley.

Don’t editorialize. You may have strong views on child-rearing, political leaders, or modern life. If a reader’s opinion differs from yours, they can get annoyed and put your book down.

In the same vein, leave out any instruction. Let your memoir tell a story on its own with the actions of its characters, and let your readers decide how to feel about it. You as an author should be invisible.

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