The difference between Autobiography, Biography and Memoir

The difference between Autobiography, Biography and Memoir

If you are new to writing you may not have given too much thought to Genre at the start of your project. We’ve all been there. That great idea you have to get down on paper before you forget – or worse still – someone else pips you to the post.

Spending a few moments considering genre at the beginning will help in more ways than you can imagine, but none more so than when it comes to pitching your book idea.

I am often asked about the differences between memoir, autobiography and biography – the nuances in the modern age are often lost – particularly when you have the likes of Amazon lumping things in together … sigh.

An Autobiography is a self-written account of your own life. You write it – you tell the ‘whole’ story. I like to think of it as a ‘personal history’.

Autobiographies are generally chronological and require knowledge of lots of dates and facts from beginning to end. Out of all these facts a ‘theme’ may emerge and that is generally the more interesting stuff for the reader.  Many autobiographies are actually written by ghost-writers who are skilled in bringing the story out of content that may otherwise read with all the creativity of a police statement.

A biography is all of the above – written by someone else. An authorised biography is written with the permission, co-operation and sometimes participation of the subject.

A Memoir is about your truth and generally covers a much shorter period of time – say 10-15 years. A memoir is very much about starting in one place (whether it’s a point of view or something more literal) and ending up in another. So Memoir shows ‘change’ or ‘evolution’ or ‘transformation’. The structure of a memoir can vary depending on the story you wish to tell. If you want to tell a chronological story from point A to point B you will most likely use a Linear structure, however you may want to keep coming back to a pivotal scene or part in your story, in which case you would use a Circular style. The thing I love about memoir though is the takeaway message. The end of a memoir should leave the reader feeling they need to take action, or change their mind on something as a result of what they have read. As a writer that is the fun, creative part of the project in my opinion. As with autobiographies many ghost-writers make their living in this genre.

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