This is by no
means a complete list of memoir types. Most memoirs are not one pure type, but a hybrid. But these are three intriguing memoir types.
MEMOIR OF PORTRAITURE:
In a memoir of portraiture, the author tries mainly to paint portraits of people,
places or things. If these people, places and things are already famous,
the author is filling out or correcting existing public images. Memoirs
of portraiture have a focused, finished quality. In writing this kind of
memoir, study how the public now perceives your subjects or themes. Do
you intend to amend or correct those perceptions, or to take advantage
of them? If the subjects of your memoir have no public reputation,
realize that however vivid they are to you, your readers know nothing about
them, and don't yet understand why they should. Work to create full portraits,
sharp with detail. Look for humor in your story. In reading your drafts,
ask yourself: As a reader, Would I want to meet these characters? Would
I want to visit these places? If the characters and places are not yet
compelling enough to make you answer "Yes," then deepen them. Most
memoirs of portraiture have little moral quality; they are meant to educate,
but not in moral terms.
MEMOIR OF CONFESSION:
Growing Up, by Russell Baker.
Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain
Home Before Dark, by Susan Cheever
In a memoir of confession, authors seek mainly to unburden themselves of a powerful,
guilty secret. Perhaps a family member was abusive; perhaps they achieved success
through callousness or fraud. Somehow their private thoughts or behavior have
been painfully separate from their professed values or those of the dominant
society. The memoir of confession is always an intimate moral portrait. Well-handled,
it can be riveting. In writing this kind of memoir, work hard to make
evil familiar, and harsh deeds understandable. In reading your drafts, ask yourself:
Do I understand why everyone in this story acted as they did? If not, dig deeper
into the motives of those who remain obscure. The best memoirs of confession
are works of moral education, startlingly specific, but also timeless and universal.
In writing a memoir of confession, don't wallow in evil, or in self-pity. Be
specific. Work hard to clarify your feelings and to reach a satisfying, definite
conclusion. The deeper and darker your memoir's secrets, the more your readers
will yearn for clear insight and a strong resolution.
Confessions, by Saint Augustine
Manchild in the Promised Land, by Claude Brown.
This Boy's Life, by Tobias Wolff
Like the memoir of portraiture, the exploratory memoir probes the past; but unlike
the memoir of portraiture, it probes in a gentle, perhaps unfocused way, with
no promise of resolution or conclusion. It treats the past and human motives
as if they are fundamentally a mystery. This kind of memoir aims to throw out
evocative clues, to suggest intriguing hypotheses, to stand back from the material,
and wonder. The exploratory memoir often lacks the rounded portraits of
a memoir of portraiture, or the high drama and firm conclusions of memoirs of
confession or self-justification. In writing this kind of memoir, make sure your
drafts are neither vague nor boring. Some readers dislike this kind of memoir
for not "coming clean" or "taking a stand." But at
its best, the exploratory memoir often makes other memoir forms seem contrived.
Many memoirists come to believe that the exploratory form is the most honest
way to convey the past. It treats your readers with respect, allowing them to
reach their own conclusions. Exploratory memoir also tends to be gentler on your
characters, and when these characters are honored family relatives or living
collaborators this is often a crucial point.
The Road From Coorain, by Jill Ker Conway
The Woman Warrior, by Maxine Hong Kingston