Firsthand accounts of true stories have always been popular, but are currently on the rise. The recent increase in popularity is affecting both memoirs and autobiographies. These two subgenres of literature may sound identical, but have a few key differences.
Memoirs, Autobiographies, Books, Oh My!
Being able to tell a memoir from an autobiography is not just useful for impressing people at parties—it can help you decide what kind of book you would like to write (and impress people at parties, because that’s important too).
The first thing to understand are the features that make these two genres similar. For starters, both are (typically) written in the first person. Both memoirs and autobiographies are true stories, and both are authored by the person who experienced the events of the story (and from that person’s perspective, to boot).
Autobiographies: Frame, Scope, Character
The one true difference between an autobiography and a memoir is the amount of time each covers. An autobiography is a full, ‘tell-all’ account of a person’s life: from birth until (well, not death) the present. An autobiography may (and probably should) focus on certain parts of the author’s life more than others, but it will not leave any segment of an author’s life out entirely.
Good autobiographies, however, have been known to sometimes break this rule. So what makes an autobiography an autobiography if it doesn’t tell the author’s entire life story? The differences is the same as the difference between a biopic and a film that is merely ‘based on a true story’—one is centrally focused on an individual’s life and legacy, while one merely tells a story that actually happened (often focusing on a single person).
Memoirs: Story, Focus, Atmosphere
Memoirs tell a particular story in a person’s life (‘How I Survived The Crash’, say), or focus on a particular timeframe (‘The Summer I Lived in Uganda’, for instance). A memoir can tell the story of a few months in a person’s life, or it can describe the author’s entire childhood. A memoir is more than just a ‘snippet’ of a person’s autobiography. While autobiographies tend to be more centered on facts, a memoir can focus on any number of things within the context of the author’s true life experiences.
Autobiography and Memoir Ghostwriting
An autobiography or memoir may be worth writing, but the potential author may have neither the time, nor the skill, to effectively write it down. The practice of ghostwriting is quickly becoming the recognized solution to this problem. Memoirs and autobiographies, in particular, often lend themselves to ghostwriting. Great stories or life experiences can happen to anyone, but few have the professional skills to convert these into a book.