Chronology vs. Topic Grouping

You make lots of decisions as you’re writing your memoir about when and how to introduce the topics you want to cover. You may choose to present a chronological account of your life, from birth to present day, because it seems logical and probably the easiest option. But you’re likely to find that it’s not as straightforward as you anticipated.

Let’s say that you’re writing about a favorite aunt and uncle. Perhaps as a child you spent a week with them every summer or have special memories of welcoming them to your home at Christmastime. They were a significant presence during your childhood, but then maybe they moved far away or you just grew up and didn’t see them very much. Or maybe you continued seeing them at holidays, but you’re not chronicling every holiday in your memoir. Really, the next mention you want to make is to note their death and honor their memory by saying you miss them. Where should you say that?

You can wait until you write a chapter that occurs around the time your aunt and uncle died, assuming they died within a few years of each other. You can mention various things affecting you at that time and include your trip to attend a funeral or just your sadness at their passing. Or you can just finish out their story in the earlier passages that focus on them. After explaining their importance in your life, you can write something such as: “I saw my aunt and uncle less frequently as I got older, but I’ll always have fond memories of both of them. They died in the 1990s after living long, happy lives.” Even if you write your life story in chronological order, be flexible enough in respecting the chronology to allow yourself the creative license to keep a topic together if that seems to be easier for the reader to follow.

Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help you recall people and events in your life.