Olaudah Equiano’s by Terese Marie Mailhot shifts back and forth in time and has a structure more focused on theme than chronology.We finish the book with a sense of the major events of Mailhot’s life, but not necessarily their order.Feeling confused about the difference between memoir and autobiography? The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and there is a lot of overlap between the two, so confusion is understandable.
For instance, Arthur and Lila Mae Debenham had chosen a title for their book years before they even started the process: They knew they wanted their book to reflect the "tender mercies" that God had bestowed upon them in their course through life, and this theme guided our efforts in the writing process, helping us decide what events to include and what to leave out.
But if you don't have a title already picked out, don't panic.
The motivation here is more about subject and style and less about the writer as a historical or cultural figure.
When readers pick up an autobiography, they expect it to begin with the author’s childhood (or perhaps even with the author’s parents’ lives), to proceed through young adulthood and middle age, through to the time of the writing.
Autobiographies are sometimes thought of as a form of history and they are used as source material for historians.
While it’s possible for both autobiographers and memoirists to get their facts wrong, the stakes are higher for the autobiographer who made history or witnessed historically-important events.
The facts matter in memoir, but it’s understood that memoirists select and shape the facts of their lives to explore their chosen theme.
Darin Strauss’s is rooted in a real-life event—a car crash in which Strauss accidentally hit and killed a classmate—but it focuses on the emotional aftereffects of this event rather than the historical context of Strauss’s life. Again, these distinctions are loose ones, but hopefully they have helped you understand the different connotations of the two words. Check out this list of 100 must-read memoirs, this discussion of how to define the term “memoir,” and this post on short memoirs.
Some of our clients come to us with a title already picked out, before they've even begun to write. We get asked this question a lot: how do I choose a title for my book?
Others wait for the title to be revealed to them in the writing. Choosing a title for your memoir, especially a thematic title, before you start your project can be a great guiding force, helping you narrow the focus of your book as you write.