Three primary formats are available to tell a creative nonfiction tale: biography, memoir, and autobiography. Memoir and autobiography both have a long history of being written. But what are the obvious and practical differences between memoir vs autobiography? Memoirs are personal, first-hand accounts of a person’s life story, while an autobiography is a factual account of someone’s life.
Autobiography vs memoir: What will be better for you? That all depends on your preference! Please read this Penn Book blog post to find out which one might work best for you!
Table of Contents
- 1 What is an Autobiography?
- 2 What is a Memoir?
- 3 Memoir vs Autobiography Basics
- 3.1 1. Autobiography focuses currently covers the author’s life up to the point of writing. The memoirs focus only on a part author’s entire life.
- 3.2 2. Autobiography authors are famous for telling stories about the author’s entire life. Anybody can be a memoirist, whether they are famous or not.
- 3.3 3. People read autobiographies to know about an identified (probably famous people). They read memoria because they are interested in a particular subject or story or are drawn to the writer’s style.
- 3.4 4. Autobiographies are written in chronological order. Memoirs above all move in time.
- 3.5 5. Autobiography posts a greater emphasis on facts, how the writer fits into historical records, while memoir emphasizes personal experience and interiority.
- 3.6 Can We Use the Terms Autobiography vs Memoir Interchangeably?
- 4 Conclusion
What is an Autobiography?
An autobiography (Greek for self-life write) is a first-person-point-of-view account of a person’s entire life. Their subject’s life matter distinguishes autobiographies.
They are often written by politicians, celebrities, business people, or sports stars. A good autobiography chronicles the author’s life and how they rose to fame, fortune, money, or talent.
Because they focus on facts, autobiographies tend to be more formal than memoirs. Autobiographies are more formal than memoirs because they require more extensive fact-checking. They often tell stories that are close to the truth or how they occurred. This means that they have a lot of straightforward language and chronological narration. To ensure accuracy, facts are verified.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin and The Story of My Life (by Helen Keller) are two of the most influential and well-known autobiographies.
These autobiographies were written by historical figures who were well-known in their person’s life. The former was a founding father for the United States, and the latter was an activist, lecturer, writer, and lecturer.
Famous autobiographies include The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank) and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou).
What is a Memoir?
On the other hand, memoirs are a way for famous people to tell their stories in their own words. They allow them to use the writer’s life experiences to help others. The theme might be more critical to a reader than the author. Memoirs are more intimate and focus on the writer’s entire life. Memoirs can be written anytime. It should be written in the first-person point of view.
The philosophy of memoir-writing is also very different from autobiography-writing. Memoirs, which are French for memory or reminisce), emphasize facts.
Autobiographies, on the other hand, focus on facts. Memoir writers often use their own memories and real life to create a compelling life story. Memoirs do not have to conform to any formal standards regarding chronology or factual accuracy.
A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers and The Liars’ Club of Mary Karr are a few examples of famous memoirs.
Memoir vs Autobiography Basics
While there will be exceptions to each point, it is generally a true story that autobiography seeks to be complete, while memoir doesn’t. Autobiographers tell the story of their lives. While some parts may be more detailed than others, most of them are covered.
Memoirists often pick a particular part of their lives to write about and then ignore or summarize the rest. Sometimes they will choose a topic or theme and tell life stories that highlight its importance from various parts of their lives.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a summary of the main points of Malcolm X’s history. At the same time, Abandon me: A Memoir of Melissa Febos focuses primarily on two critical relationships (with her father and with a lover).
Long Walk to Freedom is Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. It is an excellent example of a person whose personal account of life matters because of who and what he accomplished.
Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club, a memoir of her childhood, isn’t about a famous person. It’s a story of an average person’s life. Although her childhood was very memorable, it doesn’t make her any more famous. Sometimes, Memoirists are famous for writing memoirs.
3. People read autobiographies to know about an identified (probably famous people). They read memoria because they are interested in a particular subject or story or are drawn to the writer’s style.
People might choose to read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin because they are interested in learning more about a historical figure. It may be that they have heard it is exciting and well-written. But the primary motivation for reading the book is the desire to learn more about someone who has shaped American history.
Roxane Gay’s memoir Hunger, A Memoir of (My) Body may be picked up by readers who want to learn more about food, body image, and weight.
Gay’s essays are available online, and readers may be interested in exploring more of her work. This is a more topic-oriented and stylistic essay than discussing Gay as a cultural or historical figure. Memoirs read more like fiction novels than factual accounts. They should contain dialogue, setting, descriptions of the main character, and other intricate details.
4. Autobiographies are written in chronological order. Memoirs above all move in time.
Readers expect an autobiography to start with the author’s childhood, or perhaps with his parents’ lives, and continue through their teen years, middle age, and finally, to the time the writer writes. The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano’s Life of Olaudah Equiano does precisely that. It begins with his childhood and then simply proceeds through time.
Memoirs can, however, be looser with their time management. Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot moves back and forth through time and is more focused on themes than detailed chronology. The book ends with an overview of Mailhot’s life events, but not necessarily their chronological order.
5. Autobiography posts a greater emphasis on facts, how the writer fits into historical records, while memoir emphasizes personal experience and interiority.
Sometimes autobiographies can be considered a type of history. They are often used as sources for historians. While autobiographers and memoirists can get their facts wrong, the stakes are higher for the autobiographer who made history or witnessed historically important events.
Memoir is all about the facts. But it is well-known that memoirists choose and shape the facts from their lives to explore a particular theme. Half a Life: A Memoir by Darin Strauss is based on a real-life incident in which Strauss hit and killed a classmate. However, it focuses more on the emotional truth connection aftermath of the specific event than the historical context.
Can We Use the Terms Autobiography vs Memoir Interchangeably?
Although technically, autobiographies are two different things. However, the terms are often interchangeable. Amazon even puts them in the same category. However, they may not be the same thing. You will likely be forgiven if you use autobiography or memoir interchangeably. Most people won’t even notice your error.
The memoir focuses on the way an individual shares their whole life story with the world. Autobiographies are typically defined as the written account of one’s own experiences, especially those which have been significant.
The two types of books can be hard to distinguish because they both tell a personal narrative and often overlap in content. However, memoirs tend to focus on major events that happened during or before the writer’s childhood, whereas autobiographies may start at any point in time.
Both autobiography and memoir provide readers with wisdom about how others see the world through someone else’s eyes. Still, it is essential not to confuse them when reading reviews or writing book summaries!
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