What is a Memoir?

Do you keep a journal? Many people who never have are now recording feelings, observations and interactions in these unprecedented times. Journaling can be therapeutic in the immediate but it also may become source material for a later memoir.

Memoir is the nonfiction form most like fiction. A memoir shares stories and recreates scenes from your past and our collective history. Unlike fiction, memoir stories and events are true. And it’s the work of the author to recount those recollections in a way that the reader feels they were there, too. Like a fiction writer, a memoir writer sets the scene, using selected details to help the reader experience the event like the proverbial fly on the wall.

How can you write a recollection that helps your reader be in that moment and share your experience?

A good memory is helpful, but we know memory is a tricky thing. Consider talking with friends and family, too. Your memoir tells the story from your point of view, but they may remember details from that time that will spark your memories.

Another way to encourage your memories is to look at what world events were happening at that time. Politics, sports, arts. What movies were popular at that time? What songs were on the radio?

You can revisit a location in your mind to recall the details of a place—the scent, the light, the noise. But memories can also be stirred by revisiting an important setting—a neighbourhood, a church, a school. And, of course, things change. Toronto is an excellent example of a place that has changed remarkably in the past few decades. For example, if an author wrote “I grew up in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood” today’s reader may assume a wealthy life, as that area is now known. But in the 1940s and 50s (not so long ago!) the neighbourhood was a collection of tumbledown cottages, some without even indoor plumbing.

And, enlist technology to aid your research. Ayelet Tsabari, an author and mentor in the creative nonfiction program at King’s College says she used YouTube videos of places she had been in India to help her recall that setting.

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