Every successful memoir offers lessons for memoir authors. Celebrities who want to write a memoir have an easy time getting an advance from a publishing company, but having that advance, or even being a celebrity, does not guarantee that the memoir will be a best-seller. To appeal to readers, it has to be well-written and tell a compelling story, just like most other best-selling books. So when a celebrity memoir does sell briskly, it’s worth taking a look for those lessons.
Lessons for Your Memoir Writing
Viola Davis’s Finding Me is a good place to start. Any rise to fame is at least marginally interesting if described well, but Davis has more than that to work with. She had a childhood framed in extreme poverty, bullying and parental fighting, and she experienced rejection after rejection because casting directors didn’t find her pretty enough, or light-skinned enough, for leading roles.
Davis tells her story in ordinary, yet eloquent, language while quoting dialogue in the voices of people speaking casually, people less educated than she eventually was. She draws in the reader with every sentence and makes that look easy.
From the Write My Memoirs review on Goodreads, here are a few other tips this book offers memoir writers:
“Like many memoirs, Finding Me begins with a pivotal moment in the author’s life. In a lot of celebrity memoirs, that moment recalls a time along the journey of fame—after its launch but not too far in. Instead, Davis starts her memoir with an episode from her childhood. That’s because the little girl, Viola, influences the entire story. Davis always goes back to who that girl was, the hard life she endured, and who she remains in memory, legacy and perpetuity.
“From that episode, Davis jumps way ahead to a related anecdote from her time as the star of the TV show How to Get Away with Murder and then to another pertinent episode soon after, at her therapist’s office when she was 53, shortly before she wrote this book. Bridging little Viola with both famous, multi-award-winning Ms. Davis and private Viola Davis sets the tone for the book: they’re all the same person. The actor we applaud is still the child inside.”
Specific Devices in Memoir Writing
Memoir authors often reach for segues to soften the lines between topics. Davis uses a kind of basic technique that shows even sophisticated memoirs can rely on common writing devices. To tell readers about her mother’s background, she starts with how she always studies her mom’s face whenever they’re together. She can see the lines and wear and tear from a rough life. Then she goes into that life. When she’s finished, it’s easy to transition to her father’s life.
Your story may have many of the same elements of Davis’s memoir—rising above a tough childhood, for example. Read Finding Me to inspire you to tell your story in a way that keeps the pages turning.