Whether to Write Memoir or Fiction?

Have been thinking a lot lately about the comparative strengths and weaknesses of writing a memoir or novel.  If your story is peculiar or infamous — for example, if your experience is war-related or concerns a particularly unusual health challenge — memoir is the way the go.  The reason, of course, is that readers will specifically want to learn what it was like to be a prisoner of war, or what it was like to undergo some 60 operations and organ transplants.  They don’t necessarily seek someone’s imaginative narrative in this regard.  But what if your unique story isn’t especially dramatic?  What if the scope of your circumstances are relatively banal and concern such issues as religious conversion, or family strife, or dating pratfalls?  While such generalized experiences can certainly be the building blocks of a terrific memoir, they also provide inspiration for gripping fiction.  The advantage of fiction, here, is that the author has greater freedom to build tension and structure the events from the most effective literary perspective.  Conversely, the writer’s ability to tell is relatively hamstrung in memoir — things happened as they happened, and no one’s real life takes an ideal fictional arc.  Instead, we have ups and downs, peaks and valleys, and “what actually happened” doesn’t always make for scintillating literature.

Another consideration: as tough as the U.S. publishing market is for fiction, it’s a lot more challenging for memoirs by relatively unknown authors.  So unless you’ve hit a million Twitter followers, fiction may present the most marketable opportunity for your story.

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