Before we continue, click here to review the definition of memoir. A memoir focuses on a segment of your life—a specific time period or theme.
If you choose a time period for your memoir, you’ll probably use a chronological format. (More on this in a future blog post.)
But if you’re basing your memoir on a theme, you’re writing a collection of stories pertaining to that theme. (See our recent post, Must-know info about your theme, by clicking on that link.)
You might base your theme on a Bible passage or a poem that means a lot to you. In that case, you’re writing vignettes (stories, chapters) to illustrate key phrases within that passage.
For example, you could use this Thomas à Kempis prayer as an outline—as a structure or framework for your memoir:
Give us, O Lord, steadfast hearts
that cannot be dragged down by false loves;
give us courageous hearts
that cannot be worn down by trouble;
give us righteous hearts
that cannot be sidetracked
by unholy or unworthy goals.
Give to us also, our Lord and God,
understanding to know You,
diligence to look for You,
wisdom to recognize You,
and a faithfulness
that will bring us to see You
face to face.
Thomas à Kempis
If you were to use that prayer, you’d have your structure pinned down from the get-go.
- For example, our first vignette/chapter would illustrate something you experienced—or watched someone else experience—about maintaining a steadfast heart and refusing to be pulled down by “false loves” (which could take many forms). Be sure to include specific the ways “false loves” presented themselves and how you fought to remain steadfast.
- Your second vignette/chapter would illustrate something you experienced or witnessed about living with courage despite enduring ongoing troubles. Be specific about those ongoing troubles about how they threatened to break the person. And tell the story of choices made to defy fear and choose courage.
- Continue through each phrase of the prayer, using examples of personal experiences or those you witnessed in other people.
Another example might be If by Rudyard Kipling:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor walk too wise. . . .
Don’t miss the rest of Kipling’s poem—it’s so inspiring! Read the rest of it by clicking here.
And, just like the example above, use each phrase of the poem to write a vignette/chapter about personal experiences, or those you witnessed in other people, to illustrate the validity and power of each. What a powerful memoir that would be to inspire and guide others!
Your goal is to hand your readers a coherent, organized, satisfying story. Your memoir’s structure can play a big role in making that happen.