Difference between Memoir and Autobiography

What is the difference between a memoir and an autobiography? This question came up during a recent conversation with some acquaintances. During all that everyone was saying, one thing came out very clearly – although everyone knew that both a memoir and an autobiography are author-written works about their lives, not everyone knew the real difference between the two. Mixing up of the two terms is very common and generally people tend to use them interchangeably.

So, if both are written by the author in the first person and both are true accounts of his/her life, then what is the difference?

The difference between a memoir and an autobiography is in their structure, time, and focus.  An autobiography tells the story of the author’s entire life chronologically – usually from the time of birth to the time it is written. The tone is formal and historical with dates and facts. It is generally written by a famous person to inform his/her fans about his/her life. The focus here is on entire life and all its events.

A memoir, on the other hand, focuses on a certain aspect or certain incidents of life – for example, something that has had an impact on life, or inner struggles. It does not follow a strict timeline and may move back and forth depending on the situation.  A memoir may be written by anyone if he/she has something interesting or unique to tell. The tone here is informal and personal, and includes the author’s emotions and feelings.

writing1Are you thinking of writing about your life? What would you write – a memoir or an autobiography?


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2 Responses

  1. I think of autobiography as the hard ground of a person’s life, the trails trod, the barriers smashed, the honors bagged and brought home. I think of a memoir as a book of things seen and unseen, uttered and felt, witnessed and experienced on the journey to cosmic and personal awareness


  2. Beautifully put , Betty. So well explained in so few words.


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