Hey everyone! Today, we are going to be talking about the difference between biography vs autobiography. Also, you will get to know what a memoir is. So, without any further delay let’s get started…
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Biography Vs Autobiography
Specifically, I want to start with the three ways to tell a single person’s story. Those are Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir. The key thing about these three types of stories telling is they are nonfiction. That means that everything you are saying needs to be true to the best of your ability.
So, when you are talking about other people you can’t say what they were thinking and feeling unless you know what they were thinking and feeling. Since you either interviewed them or you’re reading their journals and letters and that sort of a thing. This means that the point of view as far as people other than you, the author go is a little bit more distant than in types of fiction.
No 01: Biography
This is when the author is not the subject. If you’re telling someone else is a non-fiction story, you’re writing a biography. When I refer to a biography for the duration of this article. I’m not talking about that short about us section. I’m only talking about a true story written by someone other than that person.
A biography requires the most research out of these three ways of telling a nonfiction story. You as the author are expected to know everything about this person that you are writing a book about. You are also expected to vet your sources. Your readers are relying on you to wade through all of the myths and legends and gossips surrounding the person that you have chosen as your subject. To get to what really happened and who they really were. It’s your job to know the difference between what is just a “fable” and what act “happened”.
A biography usually uses a distant third-person point of view. This is because the author is not that person. So, they don’t know what that person was thinking and feeling and what was going on inside their head during their entire life.
They might know snippets that they can get certain things from journals and letters, but those will only be moments in that person’s life. In fiction, you can get really close and inside a character’s head at any given time because they’re not real. This distant third person creates a bit of distance between the reader and the subject of the biography. So, be aware of that if that’s what you’re writing and do your best to pull the reader in other ways and keep them interested and invested.
In general, readers are not often interested in biographies. What they are interested in, are specific people and events from history. So, biographies do better if they’re about someone famous to some degree because you’re gonna have more people already interested in that person.
Examples of Biographies:
- Naked at the Feast:
A Biography of Josephine Baker by Lynn Haney.
- Infamous Lady:
The true story of Countess Erzsebet Bathory by Kimberly L. Craft.
- The Immortal Life:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
- John Adams:
John Adams by David McCullough.
When you look at these book titles and their authors, notice that the person who the book is about is not the same person as who wrote it. Sometimes, you will come across a book that says memoir of so-and-so or so-and-so’s autobiography.
But when you look at the author that person didn’t write that book. Even though it has “Memoir” or “Autobiography” in the title, it’s still a biography. When you are titling your own biography, I strongly recommend you do not do that. Readers don’t like to be lied to. When you’re claiming something’s a memoir and it’s not, you’re lying to them and that’s gonna lead to some not great reviews.
No 02: Memoirs
I’d like to cover memoirs where authors a chapter of their life. In a memoir, a person is recounting a portion of their life, they’re not doing their whole life. Often, in memories, it is focusing on a specific event or chapter, or theme in their life. Memoirs should almost always be in the first person because the author is telling their own personal story. When you don’t write them in the first person, readers start to become suspicious. They’re wondering, why you’re not owning your own story and what you are hiding from them.
First-person also allows your authorial voice to shine through. What that means is, readers, feel like you’re sitting in that room, telling your story directly to them. Instead of there being this distance between you and them.
They feel like they’re having a conversation with you. It’s more personal and they get to know you better and that’s what readers of memoirs love. In the alchemy of the afterlife, Linda Kinnaman accomplishes this on the first page. She says:
“One eye fluttered open only enough to allow a view of my own eyelashes. Slowly like doors rusted on their hinges, I opened both eyes ready to slam them shut if anything or anyone was looking back. This peekaboo technique has always served me well when watching horror movies. I just never needed it first thing in the morning in my own bedroom”
Here Ketamine is owning her own experience, she’s using the I pronoun. She’s telling readers what she was thinking and feeling and she’s inviting them into her experience. If you are writing a memoir you should strive for this closeness that Kinnaman accomplishes on her first page.
In a memoir, you the author are the protagonist. You are the main character, so your experience should really come through, so should your personality. Linda Kinnaman is from the south and you can almost hear her southern twang in her euphemisms and word choices. Unless you’re writing a biography about someone who’s really famous.
By far, memoir is the most popular of these nonfiction forms and that’s because it cuts out all the boring parts. People don’t often care where you were born, who your parents were, what your parents did for a living, where you went to high school. What they care about is that portion of your life that defined you. That portion of your life that they can relate to. A memoir focuses on not just the person in their story, but a theme or a message or an emotion or a moment in that person’s life. That’s where the story really lies.
In born to run, a hidden tribe super athlete and the greatest race the world has never seen, Christopher McDougall focuses on what first inspired him to research and look into long-distance running. All the way to his participation in an ultra-marathon.
He doesn’t talk about what happened after that ultra-marathon or what happened before he first got interested in long-distance running. Since that’s not what his memoir is about. So, if you’re writing a memoir, be aware of that. Be aware of what is related to the message that you’re trying to get across and what’s just extra information. That’s interesting to you because you lived it but not to other people.
This dual nature of memoirs should be reflected in the back cover copy. If you’re writing a memoir, you want to give a little bit of your background on that back cover. You also want to at least, hint at, what that theme is if you don’t, outright state it.
Examples of Memoirs:
- Alchemy of the Afterlife:
Alchemy of the afterlife by Linda Kinnaman.
- Born to Run:
A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race, the world has never seen by Christopher McDougall.
- The Double Helix:
A personal account of the discovery of the structure of DNA by James D Watson.
No 03: Autobiography
Autobiographies, where authors cover their whole life. Autobiography merges biographies and memoirs together. It covers a person’s whole life from birth up until the point when they finish writing that autobiography.
So, unless someone dies immediately after finishing it, it doesn’t cover their entire life. Since you are telling your own personal story in an autobiography, you’re expected to use first-person just like in a memoir. However, you’re not also expected to focus on a specific theme or event. It’s understood that the real focus is just you.
The first part of Stephen King’s book on writing a memoir of the craft is not actually a memoir. It’s an autobiography because King is covering everything from his childhood, up until the moment when he wrote this book and was a successful author. If it was just a memoir, it would only focus on specific events that contributed to his writing and not all of this extra information that we get in his book. It’s still interesting, it’s just not a true memoir. For instance, his passages about his childhood begin like:
“Our stay in West De Perte was neither long nor successful. We were evicted from our third-floor apartment when a neighbor spotted my six-year-old brother crawling around on the roof and called the police”.
Memories like this are interesting and exciting and I understand why King included them to keep his readers invested. But they don’t have anything to do with him becoming a writer. Other examples of autobiographies include:
- On Writing:
A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.
- Night by Elie Wiesel:
- Incidents in life:
Incidents in the life of a slave girl by Harriet Jacobs
Also, I like to share my thoughts as an editor on Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs. Whether you are traditionally publishing or going the independent route, I highly suggest you take a hard critical look at your life and really ask yourself, would I be interested in reading my entire life’s story, if I hadn’t whipped? … It is my story really my whole life or is the story that I’m trying to tell only a portion of its.
Autobiographies can quickly become an ego-fest where It’s all about you and you’re not really giving your readers anything. When you transition from an autobiography to a memoir, your focus shifts a little bit and you’re not thinking so much about yourself but what I am trying to tell others. So, I would highly encourage you to consider memoir over on your back. It’s more interesting and it’s really popular right now.
They also read like fiction, they have conflict, they have characters, plot, story, tension, and mystery. They’re written with the techniques that fiction writers use. So, it pulls readers and it captures their interest it lingers with them afterwards. Consider using these same fiction techniques and your nonfiction story to really make it pop and stick with your readers. Regardless of whether or not you are writing a memoir and an autobiography or a biography, you need to be aware of which of those you’re writing.
Each of them has its pros and cons. Also, you need to know where to put your book on a bookshelf. You need to know how to catalog it, breeders need a way to find your book. Whether you’re writing a biography in a memoir or an autobiography is up to you at the end of the day.
Hope so guys you liked reading this article. I tried my best as much as possible ways to let you know everything clearly. So hopefully, after reading this article you would have known about the difference between biography vs autobiography. Keep visiting us to get useful information and many more things. Have a nice day!
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