While many memoirs focus on a traumatic time in the author’s life, there’s no rule saying a memoir must be dark. If you have a great love in your life—romantic or otherwise—you may want to document that in your memoir or even use it as the main focus.
Just Kids comes to mind. Musician Patti Smith’s memoir about her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe ranges from the initial romance to an enduring, passionate friendship after Mapplethorpe confronts his true sexuality. And it certainly has its dark edges with Mapplethorpe’s death from AIDS. But it’s the love between two people, especially creative people whose emotions stay right on the surface—the rawness of love with no boundaries, no limits, no qualifications—that captures the reader.
Include This, Don’t Include That
Focusing on the relationship doesn’t mean you can’t chronicle other parts of your life. You can provide the setting by telling the reader a bit about yourself before meeting the person, and you can wrap up loose ends by providing a bit of an epilogue to the relationship. You can flesh out other aspects of your life taking place as the relationship progresses, plateaus and either wanes or proves permanent.
As with any memoir theme, though, you have to rein in any impulse to go completely off-topic. Writing a memoir is a constant exercise in editing yourself. Resist the urge to include that important incident in your life that has absolutely nothing to do with the main theme. You can try to contrive a connection between this romance you’re writing about and your harrowing experience the time your car broke down in a strange country—but, if it doesn’t work, just let it go. You can always write a second memoir with a theme that accommodates all of the other episodes you’d like to share.
The opposite is true as well. There may be minor incidents in your life that you’d omit in a comprehensive autobiography but, since they relate in some direct way to the love relationship you’re describing, you should include them in this type of memoir. Perhaps a forgettable previous relationship teaches you something about yourself that makes the focused relationship richer than it might have been. Or maybe you’re particularly open to someone new because of a temporary loneliness you wouldn’t have bothered mentioning. You might need to educate the reader on the geography or history of the city in which the two of you met, something you certainly wouldn’t devote pages to if the relationship weren’t the focus of the book.
Paint the Picture
Always remember the “show, don’t tell” rule. In a memoir of romance, you’ll be tempted to share with the reader every feeling—every heartbeat, butterfly in the stomach, lightness of step. Instead, take your writer’s eye way above you and look down at yourself. Are tears rolling down your face? Beads of sweat dotting your forehead? Are you skipping down the street or laughing nervously or rubbing cheeks that are sore from smiling? When you truly let the reader see you inside and outside, you don’t have to articulate how you’re feeling. Readers w
ill already know, because they’ll be feeling the same way right along with you.
Can the love in a memoir be your love for a pet, a culture/city/country, a hobby or sport, a profession, a son/daughter/sibling/parent? Sure. We love lots of things. Just make it compelling and stick to the focus.
Whom do we love here at Write My Memoirs? We love our authors! Happy Valentine’s Day from Write My Memoirs. Keep writing!