Make Your Memoirs Come Alive

Showing your life story is much more interesting than telling about it. If you try to incorporate the following techniques into your work, your story will come alive for your readers.


  • Be cinematic. As you write, imagine that you are a director making a movie. Instead of explaining what went on, make scenes. A scene takes place in one location during a relatively brief time span. Scenes have action and dialog. The characters’ personalities are revealed through these. If you concentrate on one scene at a time, a slice of your life rather than the whole thing, the task of writing memoir is much less overwhelming and the actual writing you produce is more vivid.
  • Use concrete sensory images. Draw your reader into your life story by appealing to his or her senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. Most writers focus on the visual images. They tell how a thing looks. Your writing comes alive when you include smells, tastes, sounds and the way things feel, as well. How did the fried chicken taste at those Sunday dinners on the farm? How did it feel to bite down on the cherry pit accidentally left in the pie? What sounds did you hear around the table? How did the kitchen smell after the cooking?
  • Be specific. Writing becomes wimpy when it is too general or when it uses too many words to describe something. When you are writing about the first car you owned, say it was a 1959 Chevy, not just that it was an old car. Instead of telling your readers there were trees in your yard, name them. Were they maple trees? Magnolia trees? Birch trees?
  • Let readers in on what you were thinking or feeling. Sometimes memoir writers focus almost completely on what was happening around them, rather than on what they thought or how they felt. The objective witness role is for reporters. Memoir writers share their insights, their dreams, their triumphs and their disappointments. When you write memoir, you are the main character. Don’t disappear.