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What to Leave Out of Your Memoir

When you’re watching a movie and one of the characters sneezes, it’s for a reason. It’s either to show you something important about that character or it will come up as an integral part of the plot later on. (Something like… His DNA was on the murder weapon because he had a cold and sneezed on it, not because he was actually the murderer…)

If it didn’t add to the story, it wouldn’t be in the movie. Every filming location, line of dialogue and sneeze are included to propel the story forward. 

This is how you need to think about writing your book, especially your memoir. It’s not just about what to include, it’s also about what to leave out of your memoir.

Unless you are writing a full autobiography, chronicling every major event in your life, you need to limit what you share to the moments that drive the narrative of your book. 

Literary Memoir

A captivating memoir is essentially a “true novel.” 

This is often the hardest thing for first-time authors to wrap their heads around. Not every significant experience in your life needs to make it into the finished book. 

Your life may have been shaped, in part, by the fact that you were bullied in the 5th grade. But unless sharing that experience truly relates to the overall theme and plot of your book, save it for memoir #2. 

You can study how to do this effectively by reading memoirs and paying attention to what is included and what is left out

For example, Dani Shapiro has written multiple memoirs, each covering different themes: marriage, identity, tragedy and more. 

Each book tells various childhood stories but not the same ones. Only the stories related to the theme of each particular memoir are included because they contribute to the narrative. And you can bet there are plenty of important life events that haven’t made it into any of her books yet. 

Evaluate Your Outline or Rough Draft:

  • Is anyone sneezing for no reason? 
  • Are there stories included that don’t drive the narrative? 
  • Why does each scene need to be included in the finished product?

BTW, it can be extremely helpful to get an outside perspective on this! Book a call with us today to learn about working with an editor to make your memoir unputdownable


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