Memoir Writers: It’s August of 2016 and Do You Know What Your Memoir is About?

by Matilda Butler on August 2, 2016

Writing Prompt LogoPost #225 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Matilda Butler

Of Course You Know What Your Memoir is About

“My memoir is my story and it is about my life. I’ve had such an interesting life and I’m sure you want to read about it.”

But wait, a potential reader/publisher/agent needs to know more. But not a lot more in order to be interested in reading/publishing/representing your manuscript. Even you need a concise statement in order to remain focused while you write. It is remarkably easy to wander away from the storyline.

A strong synopsis saves you.

memoir writing road signYou can be any place on your memoir writing journey. You might be at the beginning or you may be nearing the conclusion. You might even be on a detour and just don’t know it. If you don’t have a synopsis, hopefully a well-polished synopsis, then stop what you are doing.

Stop what you are doing.

Look at the plot synopsis for each of the following movies. See how much is conveyed in a few words. You can probably decide if you want to see each movie knowing nothing more than the synopsis.

And if you make decisions on movie viewing based on a brief paragraph, you can understand the power of letting your audience know what you’re book is about.

After you have read these synopses, follow the writing prompt below.


Cast: Jeffery Dean Morgan, Robert De Niro, Kate Bosworth, Gina Carano, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, D.B. Sweeney, Lydia Hull, Tyler J. Olson, with Morris Chestnut, and Dave Bautista

Genre: Action/Thriller

When their attempt to rob a casino owned by the feared gangster Pope (Robert De Niro) goes awry and a shootout ensues, Vaughn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Cox (Dave Bautista) are forced to flee on foot and hijack city Bus 657 and take the passengers hostage. Now, in a high speed chase, Vaughn will not only have to outwit the police, led by Officer Bajos (Gina Carano) who are in hot pursuit, but he will have to contend with Pope’s maniacal right hand man, Dog (Morris Chestnut), in order to make it through the day alive. But we quickly learn that things are not what they seem, and Vaughn has more than one card up his sleeve.

Love The Coopers

Cast: Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Diane Keaton, Jake Lacy, Anthony Mackie, Amanda Seyfried, June Squibb, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde

Genre: Comedy/Drama

LOVE THE COOPERS follows the Cooper clan as four generations of extended family come together for their annual Christmas Eve celebration. As the evening unfolds, a series of unexpected visitors and unlikely events turn the night upside down, leading them all toward a surprising rediscovery of family bonds and the spirit of the holiday.

James White

Cast: Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, Makenzie Leigh, Ron Livingston

Genre: Drama

James White (Christopher Abbott) is a troubled twenty-something trying to stay afloat in a frenzied New York City. He retreats further into a self-destructive, hedonistic lifestyle, but as his mother (Cynthia Nixon) battles a serious illness James is forced to take control of his life. As the pressure on him mounts, James must find new reserves of strength or risk imploding completely. JAMES WHITE, which had its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival 2014 where it was the winner of the “Best of Next” Audience Award, is a confident and closely observed debut that explores loss and the deep relationship between a mother and son.

The Danish Girl

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw, Amber Heard

Genre: Drama

The remarkable love story inspired by the lives of artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener (portrayed by Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander), directed by Academy Award winner Tom Hooper. Lili and Gerda’s marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili’s groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer.

I Saw The Light

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Cherry Jones, Bradley Whitford, Maddie Hasson, Wren Schmidt

Genre: Drama, Biography

I SAW THE LIGHT is the story of the legendary country western singer Hank Williams, who in his brief life created one of the greatest bodies of work in American music. The film chronicles his meteoric rise to fame and its ultimately tragic effect on his health and personal life.

Memoir Writing Prompts

1. Make a list with numbers 1-5. Based on the descriptions above, write a YES (I want to see it or did see it) or NO (You couldn’t pay me to see it or at least I’m not interested.) next to each number. A movie might be quite good, but we don’t necessarily want to see it. What tips you toward a YES or a NO? Write down your answers. They will help you to think about your own story and how you want to describe it.

2. Notice that when a story is about a famous person, much less is said. That’s because you can provide additional information on your own. As soon as you see “Hank Williams” you know part of the plot. Assuming you are not a famous person, then your synopsis needs to be longer. However, try to make it no more than three paragraphs with the first paragraph conveying a hook so that the person wants to learn more.

3. Now, write the synopsis of your memoir. You might even want to add a genre. Of course, the genre is memoir, but provide additional information. Is it more like a mystery, a comedy, a drama, a tragedy, a coming of age story, etc.

memoir writing road sign4. After you have your synopsis, put it aside for a day or two. Return to it and work on polishing it. This will become a part of a query letter or book proposal. And even more important, this document will guide your work on your memoir. If you feel you are lost, go back to your statement. See if it helps to get you back on the road to finishing your memoir.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sara Etgen-Baker September 9, 2016 at

thanks for the insight on synopsis writing as it pertains to memoir writing. Since my memoir is a compilation of memoir vignettes, I was wondering just how to compile them and make them marketable

I’ve written a synopsis for my novel but hadn’t thought about doing one for my memoir. I think doing so will help me see the hidden organization and presentation of all the little pieces of my life. Hmmm….pieces of my life…a title? a theme? who knows. But thanks!

Matilda Butler September 12, 2016 at

Hi Sara:

Thanks for your comment. When writing a life story, it is always easy to get side-tracked and even to forget some of the basics of writing. As you mention, you knew you needed a synopsis for your novel, but didn’t apply the same lesson to your memoir.

Best wishes with your writing. I love your stories and know you will find just the right way to compile them.

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