Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir: What is the Difference?
If you have a true story you would like to tell, it is important to decide how you want to tell it. What is the difference between a biography, autobiography, and a memoir? We will discuss each form of nonfiction storytelling in this blog.
A biography is one’s life story written by someone other than themself. Often, someone chooses a biographer to tell their story after careful consideration. People want to make sure their biographer is a writer who can tell their story well. Authors can also write biographies about a figure they are interested in without that person’s official consent. Biographies can be about any person, living or dead, famous or simply a regular person with a fascinating tale.
A biographer spends time interviewing with their subject, conducting research, and also speaking to people who know the subject in order to form a full picture of their life. Factual accuracy is important in biographies. While factual accuracy is important, it is also essential to write in a way that flows nicely rather than a laundry list of facts. Biographies still use structures found in fiction such as scenes and characterization in order to accomplish this. Summarize when appropriate, but use action scenes to describe important events.
Biographies are broad in scope, focusing on most of a subject’s life or a certain long period of their life. They are heavily structured, usually in chronological order. The biographer uses a bird’s eye view – third person perspective – to tell the story of their subject. That way, they themselves do not become a character in the story.
If you would prefer to tell your life story on your own terms, then an autobiography may be right for you.
An autobiography is one’s life story as told by themselves. Autobiographies have all the traits of biographies, except the writer is telling their own story. As an autobiographer, a writer will use first person point of view. Speaking from your own perspective will lend your autobiography more credibility. Like biographies and fiction, autobiographies utilize scenes and characterization to tell the story in a way that is compelling, rather than simply reciting facts.
However, it is still important to be factually accurate so your whole story lines up. If you would like to delve deeper into how something felt rather than how it happened in a literal sense, perhaps a memoir is a better choice.
A memoir is a nonfiction story that centers on one event or period in someone’s life, rather than a longer period or their whole life. Memoirs often use the same literary devices as fiction stories and poetry in order to make them more dynamic and compelling. As creative nonfiction, memoirs deal in finer detail than biographies and autobiographies. Authors attempt to convey their feelings. They talk about how an experience changed them. They focus on sensory details and crafting a unique narrative voice.
In memoir, the accuracy of how an event might have happened takes a backseat to how that event felt to the writer. Most importantly, a memoir attempts to reach a universal appeal through one’s own experience. While your experience may be something that only happened to you, it will be relatable to your audience.
Ultimately, which format you decide will, in many ways, determine the course of your book. Therefore, it is important to choose wisely.
Sources consulted: Author Learning Center
For more tips on nonfiction writing, check out this blog.
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