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Memoir Creative Nonfiction
What is Memoir? In general, Memoir is a highly detailed sensory account of an event which, though personally significant, is of universal import, since it conveys a central point or lesson that the writer wishes to share. Despite a close relationship to personal narrative or autobiography, Memoir is much more than either. Although based on actual events, Memoir is defined as creative nonfiction. The central event is not only of personal significance, but conveys a universal truth. Memoir is heavily dependent on sensory detail. For a moment the reader stands in the writer’s shoes and sees, hears, touches, tastes, and smells the very things the writer experienced. Memoir allows the reader to have a proxy experience—to learn what the writer did, without having the actual experience. Remember, Memoir is descriptive rather than documentary in nature.
Documentary Narrative: Evan Berrett came by the office one afternoon. I was very glad to see him. He wanted to know how my dating situation was going. I was, of course, very non-commital. He told me that he was going to set me up with a blind date. I didn’t take him very seriously, but a week later he showed up with two tickets to the international cinema. He said his friend Melanie would be expecting me at 6:00 p.m. on Friday. When I met her, she was kind of funny looking.
Descriptive Narrative: In the midst of my research, Evan Berrett showed up at the office one afternoon. I hadn’t seen him since our mission, so I was delighted to see him. He seemed happy, and like all good returned missionaries, was married (and anxious that the rest of us should also tie the knot). When he asked me how the dating scene was going, my response was non-commital. “Oh, come on!” he said. “What are you waiting for? I suppose you think that you’re going to find the one in a bookstore or a library!” He threatened to set me up with a blind date. I didn’t take him terribly seriously, but a week later he showed up with tickets in hand. “I got you a date,” he said, under the albeit mistaken impression that he was doing me a favor. “Her name is Melanie, and she will be expecting you at 6:00 p.m. on Friday. Don’t let me down. You’re going to see a French movie at the International Cinema.” On Friday night I dutifully showed up at Melanie’s. I rang the doorbell, which was opened by Melanie’s roommate, Barbara Mink. When Melanie came to the door I was a little taken aback. She was a thin wisp of a girl, with lank blonde hair. She wore milk-bottle spectacles (the kind you need good eyesight to see through), and her general pallor was off-set by a tasteless pale-blue neck clasp. There was something about her temples—an almost translucent thinness—which reminded me of the inner membrane which surrounds the yolk and the white of the egg when its shell is missing. Indeed, I rather suspected that had I tapped her forehead lightly with a pencil, our date would have been tragically concluded. Even less appealing was the large mole precariously perched on her upper lip. She was, nevertheless, a pleasant person and an excellent conversationalist. We visited several times beyond the first date and talked for hours.
For further information on Memoir, and to see a sample essay, please refer to The Norton Field Guide to Writing, pp. 147-52. The End PowerPoint Presentation by Mark A. Spalding, BA, MEd, MA (2008). Painting by David Shevlino.