If one were to distill memoir writing to a formula, what would the formula be?

This question is inspired by the following quote from the article America's Top Parent:

She knows enough about the conventions of memoir-writing to understand that some kind of transformation is generally required.


4 Answers 4


Memoirs aren't formulaic. If they were, they'd all be the same. Memoirs are a person's experiences and people don't have the same experiences.


Thank you for your simple answers. I was searching for an answer as I write, but realized I was on the right track when a 'beach ball' floated near my nephew as he was in my brother's swimming pool. The ball had some very unusual print on it. On it was written, 'Who is the author? What is the story about? Who are the main characters? What happens in the story? How does the story end?' Child-like, but effective.

I co-wrote an Urban street fiction novel, and was always trying to encourage my co-writer to write her 'true life' story. Now that I've chosen to write my own story I find it very therapeutic, but confusing at the same time.

I am a writer.

  • wait... what??? Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 2:09
  • @Edward: EXACTLY.
    – Standback
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 7:54
  • 2
    @Edward @Standback glad I'm not the only one. The more I read this, the more it feels like my brain is oozing out my ears. Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 8:54
  • It's genius.... Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 14:17

The quote seems to be cynically alluding to the cliched quest motif and personal transformation tropes that pop culture tends to attach to literary memoirs. There is no formula, simply literary tropes and conventions that an individual uses to enhance the narrative framework of their life story.

The underlying assumption is that a story must possess a narrative, and insofar as a literary memoir is a story, it must present its information within the framework of a narrative. This genre, either sincerely or ironically, puts into practice the maxim that every person is the hero of their story.


Actually, theoretically the process is very easy, but there is one difficulty. First, the process:

  1. List, draw, diagram or simply take in your minds eyes all properties and attributes that you associate with memoir-writing

  2. Take each of the properties and think of canonical examples

  3. When you are able to list at least seven examples of each property that you are satisfied with you can proceed to final step

  4. Apply all these to the formula for general writing

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