If you’re like me I’m sure you have been using the words memoir and autobiography interchangeably. I’ve never given much thought to the differences between the two. They both deal with the personal experiences of the main character of the book, whether it be a famous person, or not.
Today I read two articles defining the differences. To summarize, the experts tell us an autobiography is a person’s life story from beginning to end, or to the present. Ususally it is about a famous person, but it doesn’t have to be. A memoir can be about any portion of a person’s life, or portions if they seem to be making a specific point in writing the book.
Another differential is that an autobiography is written in chronological order, whereas a memoir can jump forward or backward to meet the author’s needs in supporting a specific theme. Obviously an autobiography would then be much more formal and structured than the memoir.
I found these articles on the subject most interesting but lacking in one important point. In my experience, an autobiography can be written by the subject of the book himself, but also by a ghost writer or any writer who, long after the subject’s death, finds the person so remarkable that he undertakes a study of that man/woman and writes an autobiography.
But a memoir, as far as I know, has always been written by the author himself about his own life experiences, the episodes that occured, and characters with whom he interacted, as best as he/she remembers (connection to the root word memory?) them all. At least that definition of memoir perfectly describes my writing Becoming Alice.