Thursday, October 15, 2015

Front matter: Have you created it for your memoir?

After you’ve finished writing your memoir’s chapters, or maybe even while you’re still writing, develop the following front matter, important documents to place at the beginning of your collection of stories:

The Title Page is the first page your readers will see. Your memoir’s title* will appear on the front cover as well as on your Title Page. Give yourself a by-line, too, such as “Swimming with Sting Rays,” by Buck Alexander. (I know people who used to swim with sting rays, including my husband and children!)

The next page is your Dedication Page where you name those for whom you’ve written your stories and why. Consider adding an Epigram on the Dedication Page. An Epigram is a saying, poem, Bible verse, or quote that pertains to what your readers will discover; an Epigram adds depth or clarity or pizzazz. (You can also include Epigrams at the beginning of your chapters. Read more in our earlier blog post, “Add Richness to Your Memoir’s Chapters.”)

Next, develop your Table of Contents (optional). If your memoir is a collection of vignettes or chapters, you will have given them titles. If so, list them for your readers and include page numbers.

After that, write your Introduction. Think of this as writing a letter to your readers. State why you wrote your stories (see especially Deuteronomy 4:9 and Psalm 66:16). You might want to share why you chose your title. Explain that your memoir is merely one slice of your life (a collection of stories pertaining to a certain theme—review What is a memoir at this link).  Include what you hope people will discover by reading your accounts. And here’s a bit of good advice from Frank P. Thomas: “Avoid making any apologies in your introduction for your life, for your writing, or for anything else. You are better than you think. So be positive.” (How To Write The Story of Your Life)

Some authors include a Prologue which gets the reader ready to begin Chapter One. A Prologue might include your memoir’s setting, date, and other background information. A Prologue can help readers settle into your story—which makes it more likely they’ll read it all the way to the final page.

Another optional feature is a Timeline. Why? Think back: You have a good grasp of the order of your life’s events. Probably your kids do, too, but how about our grandchildren and great-grandchildren? They probably won’t have a clue.

If you arrange your stories in a non-chronological order, or if you have flashbacks or insert backstory, a Timeline can be important for your readers.

Your goal is to make it easy for readers to follow along with you.  A Timeline can clear up anything that confuses your readers or hiders your stories’ message.

Keep your Timeline simple—a list with dates should work just fine, or you could create a horizontal line across two facing pages with key dates marked.

OR: Here’s a simpler way to organize your front matter: 
  • Title Page
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction—In this case, your Introduction would include the following from the above list: Dedication (and Epigram if you’re using one), Introduction, and Prologue.  Some authors write two or three pages of introductory material.
  • Timeline (optional)

Look through other memoirs for front matter ideas—you probably have a few memoirs stacked on your bedside table, right? You can also browse the shelves at libraries and bookstores.

Enjoy developing your front matter.
Give yourself permission
to write in rough draft form,
knowing you can come back later
to tweak and polish.

*For  more on titles, click on these recent blog posts:


  1. Thank you for sharing this helpful material Linda. It's so clear and well written, we can all benefit.

    1. Well, thanks, Sharon! We don't (or at least I don't) find a lot of info about how to write those mysterious documents, so I thought those who have never created them might be interested. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment, Sharon.