Where Should You Begin Your Memoir?

Where Should You Begin Your Memoir?


Writers Write is your one-stop writing resource. In this post, we write about choosing the best place to begin your memoir.

“Every thing must have a beginning … and that beginning must be linked to something that went before.” ~Mary Shelley

Unless you’re famous and writing an autobiography, do not begin at the beginning of your life.

Like all good stories, memoirs should begin in a moment of change. This is usually also the point where you think ‘I want to let people know about what’s happening to me.’

A memoir can begin anywhere, and move into the past at anytime. Make sure you choose a good moment to start your story.

Many memoirists think we need to start our memoirs at the worst possible moment. This is not necessarily true. Too much misery will put readers off your story.

Suggestions For Beginnings In Memoirs

  1. Begin your memoir where something happens that is funny or relatable but that still relates to the memoir’s theme. For example: A memoir about loss can begin with a scene where you show how much fun two people are having.
  2. You need to make the reader empathise with you and be interested in you before you plunge them into despair. This does not mean boring them with inane details, but you need to ground them in your life. Where are you? Who are you? What’s going on? Do use an exciting or meaningful moment to show this.
  3. Remember that memoirs are stories of survival, but that life is composed of light and dark. We need the moments of lightness to carry on reading your story.

And then:

  1. Write the scene where you become aware that everything will change. This usually includes a moments of conflict. In fiction, we call this an inciting moment. In a memoir, this could be the moment when you are told you are ill or the moment you find out your wife has another husband.
  2. Make us care about you as a character. Use fictional techniques. Make yourself believable. Even if we do not like you, we must be able to empathise with you.
  3. Make us aware of a story goal of your memoir. Create a sense of purpose that make us want to read more. For example: Make us want to find out how you dealt with your illness. Make us want to know how you married a bigamist.

Why Great Beginnings Matter

Once the memoir starts and I care about you, I want to know what happens next.

Remember that things should continue to change. Add conflict, suspense, and action to keep readers wanting more. Make readers want to know about how you coped.

Show how this changed you and how you coped and take us with you to the resolution of your memoir.

P.S. If you want to learn how to write a memoir, join our Secrets of a Memoirist course.

© Amanda Patterson

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