A memoir is a narrative written from the author's perspective about a particular facet of her or his own life.
As a type of nonfiction, memoirs are generally understood to be factual accounts, but there’s a significant amount of wiggle room. For example, there’s no obligation for the author to provide an objectively balanced account of the past—a memoir is merely a version of events as the author remembers them. In fact, the term comes from the French word “mémoire,” which means “memory,” or “reminiscence.”
You can think of memoirs as nonfiction by name and fiction by nature, with an emphasis on storytelling.
A memoir should not be confused with an autobiography. While both are accounts of the writer's experiences, autobiographies tend to span her or his entire life, providing the who-what-where-when-why of each stage in chronological order.
A memoir, on the other hand, is more selective with its timeline. Authors can intimately explore a pivotal moment or a particular facet of her or his life, allowing thoughts and feelings to take control of the narrative. If I were to write a memoir, for example, it would be titled either "The Accidental Immigrant"—the story of how I came to Mexico more than 19 years ago on a 180-day tourist visa and never returned to the States—or "I’m an Andrews Girl, So Pity Me"—an account of six years of escapades at a private girls’ school in the 1960s. (This title is the name of a ditty that my classmates and I composed in seventh grade.)
Aside from celebrity memoirs, there are several popular subgenres, which sometimes overlap:
One is Nostalgia, which transports the reader to another time and place.
Another is Inspirational—books that depict a challenging time in the author’s life to show triumph over adversity. These memoirs almost always include the theme of redemption, with the writing of the book itself often serving as the final redemptive chapter in her or his story.
The Confessional memoir is unapologetically bold. Often the author shares a painful or difficult secret—perhaps a grapple with addiction or a struggle with sexual identity—or lays her or his past bare, maybe shining a light on the dynamics of a broken family.
The Experience memoir focuses on a specific experience that the author has undergone, typically involving a sort of struggle, such as a bitter divorce, illness, or perhaps a clash with addiction. Regardless of the situation, the writer overcomes it to share lessons learned from the ordeal.
The Event memoir centers on a single significant event in the author’s life, zeroing in on a clearly defined period of time—for instance, a two-month walk in the woods, or a three-week mountain climb.
When you look back on your own timeline, is there a strong theme that defines your life or ties it all together? That’s the premise on which a Themed memoir is based. In such a memoir, the author provides a retrospective of her or his past through the lens of one topic.
Finally, in a Travel memoir, the author isn’t the star of the show: the place is. Beyond that, there really are no rules — this final subgenre opens up a world of possibilities for writers who have caught the travel bug.
That's my best explanation, Cruzie. Since both words in your head are derived from French, you might want to write a memoir about the boudoir. ;-)
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