Are Memoirs Nonfiction: Important Rules of Memoir Writing

by Joe Bunting | 0 comments

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Are you writing a memoir or novel? Are memoirs nonfiction? Or is there a difference?

are memoirs nonfiction

When you're writing memoir, you do have to tell the truth. You don't have to get the truth down perfectly, giving some opportunity to fill in the blanks. However, to call it memoir, the story needs to be your best attempt at getting the facts right.

In today's coaching video, learn how one writer learned the rules of memoir writing and how this completely changed her book. Is Denise writing a memoir, or is she better off  writing the story as fiction? Or nonfiction?

Don't wait to find out!

This Memoir Writer Impressed Me [How to Write a Memoir]

Watch the Video OR Read the Transcript

So how long have you been working on this project? 

So I started it locked down last year. So probably around September, October, 2020 after watching Emily and Paris on 

Netflix. Yeah, 

it just annoyed me because it was so different from what I experienced. And so 

I was thinking about that as I was reading your, I will all of your writing 

bye synopsis.

So yeah, glamorized, I guess. 

You mean the Netflix show was not realistic. 



They would even allow that on there. But 

anyway, I just thought what's stopping me from just telling my story.

You know, I spent a year in Paris when I was, 19 or 20, so going back 20 years now and it was really a life changing time of my life. And, obviously I can't remember every detail, so I just thought, oh I'll just make up whatever I've forgotten and fill in the gaps with imagination.

And so fictionalized memoir that what came out of it and it, yeah, it took, I I think I wrote about half, maybe a bit less than half, and then there was a big pause. And then I got back into it in lock down this year. So here in Melbourne, we were locked down for over 200 days, total. Yeah. So it was really good opportunity to do things like this.

Yeah, I miss it now a little bit. Now I know, because now we are back in the real world, even while COVID-ness is still raging behind the scenes. And and we also have to live real lives again. So it's just horrible 

anxiety. But there's a lot of things to do and people to see and Christmas is coming and at least it's warm house so we can do a lot of things outdoors.

Yeah. Okay, cool. Well, I mean, let's just jump in.

 One of the things I want to talk about is the rules about writing memoir which is important. One of the things you said that I just want to be clear about before we get too deep into your book is when you're writing memoir, you do have to tell the truth.

It's not okay to fictionalize if you want to call it memoir. Right? Now, you don't have to get it right. You don't have to get it perfectly and you can fill in some blanks and that's not fictionalizing. That's just doing your best. And as long as you say that in an introduction, that's fine. Or an authors note at the beginning.

But to call it memoir, it has to be like your best i ntention of getting it correct. You can also fictionalize. And then that's a different thing than it's a novel. So either is great. It sounds like you're actually a little bit closer to the memoir side. Is that true? 

Well, no having heard what you've just said now, I think we should probably call it a novel because there's a lot of it is what I remember as I remember it, but I've made up it's definitely.

Yeah. So maybe thinking about it more like a novel. Okay. That's good. 

So the names have changed, but you know, people who were in it would recognize themselves if they ever read it. 


Okay. That's fine. Then they might be like, Hey, that never happened. I'd be like, no, it didn't. 

There you go. Yeah. It's always fun. Having those conversations with people about, Hey, I wrote a book about you, not sorry,

 The actual people who were living in Paris, who knew many of whom I am still in contact with, I haven't actually sent that email. 

Yeah. It's, that's a fun one. It's not something you have to do now that as you get further, closer to publishing.

All right. So coming back to the premise 19 year old Australian backpacker describe yourself in two words, adventurous of critical lose to Paris to learn French and seek love. So that is our situation. Lesson learns a lot about herself in the world and the process. So I like this actually. So here with the memoir part, you have adventurous self-critical and here it's just 19 year old Australian backpacker. I mean, I sorta get something from that, but then the, this lesson love has to come from within, before it can come from outside. So I would just incorporate that into your premise.

Because I think that's an important part. And you also have that in your synopsis, right? 

Yeah. That's like the final kind of moral of the story. 

I mean, I actually really liked. Including that I might do something like let me see, actually, let's do this. We'll just do a little bit of a mashup.

And one thing that's helpful about doing this just in general, is that when you're pitching agents having this line is going to be part of your query letter. So it's good to be thinking about that from a publishing perspective now that you're in your second and third drafts, right? Yeah. So the, at this point it's not just a writing exercise.

This is actually part of the pitching process. All right. So if I were to do this, I almost like almost like this better. Settles in Paris for a year to learn French and seek love after getting her heart severely broken, learns, and come from the outside. How do you feel about that? Something like that.

I would put the word that in between learns and love just to be picky.

Just the gist of that though. 

Yeah. I guess if it's going to agents, it doesn't matter too much that you're giving away your, 

it definitely doesn't in fact, you want to.

I love has to come from within for it. Come from outside. Maybe we would switch the order. Like I having a synopsis. 

Yeah, you can play with us. But my point of this is that I think you want to get that in there, especially because it's you're trying to write coming of age, which is a worldview kind of story.

It's a learning life lesson kind of story. So getting what you learned in there, I think is important. Now. This is true for memoir. If we're talking about this more from a novel perspective, we could change it, but even then I kind of like it, you know? So I might just experiment with that a little bit more.

You could try a version where you just write it as a novel, with more focused on the goal, but honestly it feels like it's almost got that in there too. So yeah, the seeking love part, especially.

Yeah, I have, no, I don't feel bad about these. You know, I might say 

I didn't mind, but that was the other one that I was 


What's that now I wouldn't think about that. Cause it doesn't feel like erotica to me. 

It's got moments, but overall 

I would feel likeupmarket. It doesn't really honestly feel that chiclet either most of the, I guess the writing is too good to be honest, Denise. So yeah, I would look at upmarket and I would look at obviously women's fiction.

I don't know if women's section is one of these, but market is. In between commercial and literary fiction. So book, club fiction, or that would be kind of markety, right? So that's one thing I would think about 

oh yeah. I just considered that the writing was quite immature, sort of reads like a 19 year old, wrote it.

You know, we can we'll go deeper into it, but I felt like that the first chapter, the writing felt strong to me, you know, just, I glance super quick right before we jumped on, but we can talk more about it. All right. 

Yeah. All right. All right. I would love to just jump into your chapter. So I'll just read as much as I can. And then we'll talk about it for 10 or 15 minutes.

Okay. Okay. So if you want to pause, that's fine. I'm just going to be here reading. 


 So just initial thought. Yeah. Again, I mean, I feel like it's strong, but a couple of things I like, I'm just kind of go through this. 

I liked that he was smiling from time to time. It's supposed to be a bit funny. 

Yeah, it is. Okay. So I don't know what having a bar means. Is that an Australian thing? 

Maybe it wasn't having a bar with that means it wasn't interested in that it wasn't going to, it wasn't an issue except that. 

Yeah. No it's not an American thing. That's funny. This part I didn't like I was moved on from the first one, for some reason it alludes me. Now, if we're going with the novel route, just give a funny reason, right?

Yeah, but it refers to now it's presented as somebody now remembering something that happened back then. So me now is actually a character in it as well 

that way, but I would just give a reason. Okay. So you could say, which if I remember right, was because I pissed off the bartender or, you know, they just give some kind of reason because I don't know you have an opportunity there and it feels like a miss.

Okay. I love this. This is great. That was my noble reason. This is so important because you're setting up the stakes right away. The other reason, the real reason was a Canadian dude. Yeah. So from the beginning, we know that we're talking about. Boy meets girl or girl needs boy. Which is perfect.

And so great way to set it up. This is so funny. I mean, I just, I think you have great voice. It's it feels well-written, it feels like you have a good sense of your characters voice, which is your voice maybe. And that, it just works. 

One thing too. I want to just mention you do a good job of setting the scene.

I just talk to so many writers who really struggle showing the scene from the beginning and describing what's going on and you move, you start close to her and then move out and then move further out. And then you can come back in. 

Now I will say you do start here. I just thought of this, but then it ends with.

This thing, and you don't come back to that hotel room or to, to the hostile. 

So I 



Back so I go through all the reasons, introduce Tom, and then there's that bit. Yeah. So that night as I lay there, I think back to the interview I've already 


and then it comes back to she's lying there, feeling alone, feeling like she doesn't have anyone to turn to.

And then she goes to sleep and then it's the next day. And so then we move on. You does that work? 

I'm just wondering if you could put that.

Because she can't have the successful interview before the night of introspection and not knowing what's happening because at that moment in that in that hostile bed, she's really unsure. But then she goes, and she has an interview where she's successful and she finds the room that she likes. 

So it does come back. It does come back to the night in the bed.

 I don't know, that feels like a lot of jumping around, okay. So let's just map out this as a scene, story event. Okay. She decides, or she decides to stay in Paris for a boy and gets a job. We start in the hotel. Then we're doing some exposition, which is fine talking to Tom, why we're here.

She's flashing back to where she's talking about the bad interview and she comes back. You're saying she falls asleep and then we're moving to, so that's three, three locations in one scene, I dunno it feels to me, and it's like a present day flashback present day, fast forward. And then the next day it feels like a lot of moving around to me.


I just, I want you to end this scene thinking. I want you to end the scene back at the hotel, with her falling asleep, just because that would feel like a more, yeah. Yeah. It would feel to me like a little bit more cohesive ending. Yeah. So if 




to so that night, so that would be the end murky quandary,

and then don't worry about, I eventually drifted off to sleep. Nobody cares the next day I went to another interview in chapter two.

Yeah, I could, that could work. I mean, you could think about this as a whole new scene and maybe it is so maybe it's it's just quite short for a scene. So much scenes are like, I 1500 to 2,500 words. But I mean, it does feel fine. You have the story event, sorry. If I'm totally defacing your story. She decides to stay in Paris.

Denise decides I hear a story event. She gets a job.

The dilemma, and this is this is The Write Structure term, which I know you're not as familiar with, but is, does she lie about smoking? Which I loved. I mean, that was so funny. Also 

just like a positive. These details are just super solid and funny. Yeah. And this so great. 

Yeah. So the end of chapter two, she's already smoking by the end of chapter 


I love it. It's so great. And just this, like, this is great voice waving hands like alone. Yeah. I mean, it's fun. Lighthearted comedic. Great. That's perfect. Yeah, maybe there are two different scenes and maybe that's okay. I don't know.

Okay. I'm not anti, but I would, I'm interested in the idea of moving. Just think about it moving. Her phone is here.

It would be different scene in the bed because she wouldn't be so miserable. 

She already had a job. Yeah, I know.

Yeah, no, I mean, I would say it's not, not working.

I would say that's a very short scene in my opinion, but 

yeah. And then it goes more into just like a general description. 

Yeah. I mean, just real quick, like I think this is great that you're getting into

your relationship with Tom there's one moment where it talks about how her heart starts beating faster or she has a feeling or yeah, when 

they go and visit the statue and they make eye 

contact. Yeah. There you go. That's perfect. Yeah. Just stuff like that all throughout this whole story. No, I think that's really good.

We lived in the sixth. Living in the sixth is the bomb.

It is. It's good. Yeah. 

We were close to Saint Sulpice.. 

Oh, okay. So a bit for the back. Yeah, we were right on the ball, 

But we were right next to like down the street from Le Deux Magots and Cafe de Flore.

Yeah. So it was there, but further towards the which direction is that? The,

I don't know 

the closest Metro. 

Okay. Yeah, no, we were right there then. Yeah. 

But I could never afford to live there on my own, but I had this teeny tiny little room. And as you find out later, it has rooftop access so that the rooftop becomes like its own character as well. 

I love it. Yeah. No, I feel like this is strong.

I mean, I think you're doing great job creating scenes, setting it up, using description well, using voice well. There wasn't obviously much dialogue here, but the dialogue that was there was perfectly done. So from a writing perspective, I feel really good about it. Yeah. 

I think that's probably a big relief. You want people, I mean, the people that I've given it to, like a couple of them just read the whole thing in a day, I'm just like, that's amazing. Yeah. But I don't know if it's friends, so is that going to be the case 

When it's not because they're friends it's because it's working.

Yeah, no, it's good. So yeah. Keep pressing into that. I mean, I think the big thing, like we talked about is just getting your arcs straight and I think the climax just maybe considering that ending scene performance, just upping the stakes a little bit. Yeah. Honestly, that's a minor change though, pretend, yeah. 

You need it. You need to weave it in a little bit throughout because it's a bit of an attitude change, particularly. 

Yeah. This, it feels like it's working to me right now. And I would get your, definitely get your premise really strong because you could probably start pitching. 

Yeah. Maybe we could just talk briefly about that. 

Sure. Yeah. What are you concerned about wanting feedback on specifically as far as pitching?

I guess, yeah, it all just seems very intimidating. Yeah. I would like to go down the the traditional publishing route and not self publish for many reasons, but I think mainly because I don't know how to market myself, but these days, a lot of the publishers are also wanting you to have a marketing strategy.


You're not, you're going to have to market no matter what. So just. Get over the belief that you're not going to have to market either with self publishing, you'll have to market with traditional publishing, you're going to have to market. 

I mean at the end of the day, you can write the best query letter in the world, but if the story doesn't have enough going on you're struggling.

So it feels like your story does have enough elements that it could totally work. And so, just write a great, quite a letter. Just doing a lot of research on agent. You know, and really nailing your research.

Okay. So 45 minutes per agent that you pitched to just figuring them out and who they are and what they like. 

 It's sort of hard to know exactly where my story fits in terms of genre and everything, which books it would sit next to on the shelf kind of thing. Cause it's sort of a travel thing, but it's also just to self 

it's women's fiction. Yeah. It's upmarket, women's fiction. And not chick-lit, but it's not not chick-lit right. Yeah. Yeah. So, so look for other loves story. E episodic loves story stories set in other countries, you know, and look at women's fiction. Okay. Yeah. Keep me updated. Thank you very much. Yeah. I think this is great. I think you're going to do it 

well, thanks for that vote of confidence. 

Yeah, seriously. Yeah.

Right to your day. And we'll see you soon. Thank you. 

All right. Bye. 


Have you ever wondered if your story would work better as a memoir or novel?  Let us know in the comments.


After watching today's coaching video, spend fifteen minutes to journal about something in your life that you think would work well as a memoir or novel. Then, decide which type  of story would work better for your idea. Why is that?

Finally, post your practice in the practice box below. And don't forget to give feedback to another writer!

Free Book Planning Course! Sign up for our 3-part book planning course and make your book writing easy. It expires soon, though, so don’t wait. Sign up here before the deadline!

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.


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