Let's Talk About Books On the Personal Side: Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir
Much buzz on a few of the author/writers' groups I'm a part of is understanding the difference among a biography, an autobiography and a memoir. I know we chat about this occasionally, and recently dedicated an entire issue on personal writing on WOW, but I thought it would be great to talk about it here on The Muffin too!
I know we have a few memoir writers on here--myself included--but what exactly is a memoir? What's the difference between a memoir and an autobiography? What's the deal with biographies? And can you really write more than one memoir? Hopefully with today's post, and any comments/discussion generated from it, we can take these questions down one by one.
Let's describe each of these kinds of personal books. In the most general way I can, here's how I define each of them:
- Biographies: These are books that authors write about other people. They can be 'unauthorized' or 'authorized'. When it's an 'authorized' biography, the subject of the book usually knows about it and is aware the author is interviewing people in his/her circle but usually doesn't contribute in any way. He/she doesn't do anything to help with the writing of the book but isn't exactly putting together a law suit either. The 'unauthorized' biographies are the ones we hear about that sometimes make the headlines with negative press or result in lawsuits. The author neither has permission to write the book nor speaks to people close to the subject but, more, relies on what they find in research, their own knowledge or their own opinions of/experiences with the subject. I'm not a huge fan of biographies simply because you really aren't 100% sure if the information is accurate or true. I've read a couple that I enjoyed and trusted the sources but these reads should always be read with a grain of salt. And if you're writing one, just be sure you have reliable sources, accurate information and tell the story as spot on as you can.
- Autobiographies: These are personal stories an author writes about her(him)self. They most often span your lifetime, sometimes even generations before your life began if it pertains to who you become. Autobiographies are usually written near the end of the life's journey or after a certain significant events that the author wants to share. I find these books to be more general than the memoir (see below) because they cover a much broader span of time and there is much more information shared. And because you are writing it, the source is a little more reliable than in the biography (well...hopefully!).
- Memoir: I call these personal reads, "Slices of Life." Unlike the autobiographies that cover an entire life's journey, memoirs cover only a tiny part of that journey. They can focus on a a span of a few years or on a specific time along the journey or even just focus on a specific subject or issue. And, yes, you can write more than one because your life's journey is made up of several 'slices' that when pieced together make your entire story! So far, I've written two, with two more on the way!
Now, before I go for today, let's tackle that last question: Can you really write more than one memoir? The answer is, well, yes! I've written two with two more on the way! We can only write one autobiography because once you have your entire life's story out there, the only thing you can do after that is write articles about it. And biographies? Well, you can write as many of those as you can. As long as there are people out there doing interesting things, they'll be people who'll write books about them. But memoirs are little sections, or like I said earlier, 'slices', that make up your life as a whole so you have as many books to write as you do slices. And if you write them in the right way, you'll have tons of stories to tell and a loyal audience who'll follow you along.
Get out there and write your slice of life! I'll be watching!
(Feel free to share your insight, experiences writing one of these stories or ask a question!)