There’s something special about excellent nonfiction, but the water gets muddy when you try to label works under its large umbrella.Today, as part of our literary terms series, we examine three methods of telling a true story as we explore the similarities and differences among narrative nonfiction, autobiography, and memoir.So, here’s a detailed run-down of everything you need to know about sending me your work — everything I’m dying to see more of, and everything I never want to see again: There’s a slew of publications out there that publish 800-word personal essays about every small interaction and realization in your day-to-day life; parenting anecdotes, romantic mishaps, chance encounters that all wrap up neatly with a hard-earned lesson at the end. I want the stories you’ve been trying to figure out how to tell for your whole life.
I’m always looking for new writers for Narratively’s Memoir section. And by “bigger” I don’t necessarily just mean longer (though sometimes that too), I mean more ambitious.
If you’re interested in submitting your work, it will make both of our lives much easier if you’re crystal clear ahead of time about what exactly I’m looking for. Intellectually ambitious, emotionally ambitious stories that come pouring out of your depths — not the pithy anecdotes you scrape off the top like a pudding skin.
And to make things difficult, both autobiography and memoir fall under its large umbrella.
Jokingly coined in 1797 by William Taylor as an absurdly precise combination, the term “autobiography” is composed of the Greek words for True to Taylor’s description, an autobiography is an account of a person’s life written by that person.
He writes: “The memoir’s ambition is to be interesting in itself, as a novel might be, about intimate, personal experience.
It often aspires to be thought of as “literary”, and for that reason borrows many of literature’s tricks—the tricks of the novel, of fiction—because it wants to do more than record the past; it wants to re-create it.” Elie Wiesel’s is an autobiographical account of his own experiences in the concentration camps of World War II, but it is classified as a memoir because it covers a very specific time in his life.
Although they have gone by different names in the past, autobiographies have been around for literal ages—from Augustine to Rousseau.
Autobiography can be difficult to differentiate from memoir (it is interesting to note that Amazon puts them in the same category), and often the terms are used interchangeably but there are a few distinct differences.
Autobiographies tend to chronicle the writer’s entire life, or a vast majority, whereas a memoir’s focus can rest on a smaller set of years or single event.
In an article by Ian Jack refers to the autobiography as a record of accomplishment, one that can be written (or written by a ghostwriter) by any kind of person, whereas memoir has a more literary style.