What is the difference between a biography and a memoir?

Are you writing your memoirs or an autobiography?While there are a great many similarities between biographies and memoirs, there are a few subtle yet distinctive variances between the two categories of literature. Both tell the tale of an individual, but the difference between them lies in the parameters and style of the narrative.

Typically, biographies span the entire lifetime of the subject, from infancy through childhood to all the adventures experienced during adulthood. Much like documentaries on film, events covered in a biography will most likely unfold in chronological order. Autobiographies follow the same rules as biographies with one provision: that the author is also the subject. Quite simply, a biography is a chronicle documenting an individual’s history. There are no hard and fast rules for biographical accounts, as one person’s lifetime can vary wildly from another’s, but in general, biographies are a more straightforward medium. Biographies, a valuable educational resource, are widely available for innumerable historical figures, many of whom died long before the author even learned how to read; however, it is not mandatory that the subject of the biography be deceased.

Memoirs, on the other hand, are always written from an autobiographical perspective, even when the author has chosen to work with a ghost writer. These works are more likely to recount a shorter, more specific, finite period of time during the subject’s life. The goal is to share a complete story arc, starting and stopping at relevant points in time. The final chapter of a memoir is not necessarily the end of the subject’s life.  Memoirs are also liable to wax poetic, invoking more emotional responses from the reader. Instead of informing the reader matter-of-factly, “John was born in a hospital, went to school, got a job and had a family before dying at age 80”, memoirs generally feature crafted scenes full of descriptors and imagery that invokes multiple senses. These scenes build upon each other much like a typical work of fiction.

If you have more questions about memoirs or biographies, please contact us today at Mark Graham Communications.