Looking for the difference between memoir and biography?

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Writing a non-fiction story can be a daunting task. You are telling a true story and you need to state and share facts as accurately as possible. In addition to sharing the true-life story of someone, you also need to make it an enjoyable read.

The keyword here is non-fiction. This means that you must try your best to give an accurate and true account of someone’s life. If you are writing about someone else, you cannot just imagine what they might be thinking or feeling at any moment. You can interview them or read about them from other sources before you begin writing.

If you are planning to write non-fiction about an individual, then there are three basics formats that you can choose from:

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  • Memoir
  • Biography
  • Autobiography

Writers use these formats to tell creative non-fiction stories. Each format comes with its own distinct characteristics. You must pick from one of these formats when you are writing a non-fiction story about an individual. For picking the best format, you need to understand the difference between each of these.

In this article, our aim is to describe in detail the difference between these three formats for creating non-fiction stories. Once you understand the difference between them, you will be able to choose the right format. We will discuss the difference between memoir and biography here.

Let’s begin with Biography

A biography is written for public or historical figures

Biography

What Is It?

A biography is an account of a person’s life written by someone else. It is a complete examination of their life and covers all the notable events. Biographies are mostly written for public or historical figures. Furthermore, they can be written with or without the authorization of the subject.

A lot of research goes into writing a biography. If you are writing a biography, you must know everything about the subject. You are also responsible for finding your sources.

The readers of your biography expect you to deliver a true account of someone else’s life. You are also expected to wade through all the myths and rumors about the life of your subject. This will save your readers the hard work of telling fact from fiction.

Written in Third-Person

Since a biography is written by someone other than the subject themselves, it is always written in third-person. While the author may speculate about the feelings and thoughts of their subjects, they are not able to fully delve into their lives.

This often creates a distance between the subject and the reader. This is why most people don’t find biographies interesting unless they are really interested in the protagonist. Therefore, biographies are mostly written about famous people.

Biographies also tend to have a more objective and formal tone as compared to autobiographies and memoirs. If you plan to write a biography, then you must study and research about the subject’s life in detail. You need to collect historically accurate facts and present them to your reader in an easy to understand writing.

Since a biography includes intricate details about someone’s life, one must conduct in-depth research. There are no personal views when it comes to writing a biography. If you are writing about a living person, then it’s best to interview them. If they aren’t alive, you can research about them using all the sources that you can find.

Examples of Biographies

  • John Adams by David McCullough
  • Infamous Lady: The True Story of Countess Erzsebet Bathory by Kimberly L. Craft,
  • Naked at the Feast: A Biography of Josephine Baker by Lynn Haney, and
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot,

Key Characteristics of a Biography

  • Written by another person
  • Often about a public figure or celebrity
  • Written in the third person
  • Based solely on facts
  • Usually covers the entire life of the subject
  • Requires meticulous fact-checking and research
  • It does not give much emphasis to emotions
A memoir is a collection of personal memories

Memoir

What Is It?

A memoir is a collection of personal memories. In contrast to a biography, which covers the entire life of a person, a memoir is recounting a specific part of your life. In a memoir, you are the protagonist and the hero of the story. It is usually written about a specific experience of your life. However, great memoirs focus on other things than just the author themselves.

While a memoir may tell stories from different phases of the author’s life, it must read like a cohesive story. A memoir gives a very personal experience of a certain event of the author’s life. Hence, it allows the reader to understand the story from the point of view of the author.

A memoir is like a story and doesn’t put a lot of stress on chronological events or factual details. It is just about the point of view of the author about something happening with or around them. They read more like fiction than factual accounts.

Written in First Person

Since memoirs are told from the perspective of the author, they are written in the first person. The author gives firsthand information about their memories and some important events in their lives. It is like you are narrating a story to someone.

Memoirs are focused on the relationship between the author and their feelings about their memories. Hence, it includes things like the setting, character descriptions, dialogues and more. If you are writing a memoir, you may gain insight from both the fiction and non-fiction genres. It is a true story, but you can narrate it as a novel to give the readers an interesting read.

The author is also at liberty to improve upon the true story to enhance the narrative effect. Hence, the writer has more flexibility when writing a memoir as compared to writing a biography.

Examples of Memoirs

  • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemmingway
  • Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama

Key Characteristics of a Memoir

  • Written from the perspective of the author
  • Written in the first person
  • Less formal as compared to biographies
  • Narrow in timeline
  • Focuses more on memories and feeling than facts
  • The story may be flexed a little for effect
  • Gives space to individual emotions

These were the differences between memoir and biography.

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