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Memoir Moments

© 2010 by Jack Remick and Robert J. Ray

Think of the memoir as a series of frozen moments in the past that you free with your writing. The structure of the moment can be seen as a theme with variations in much the same way a jazz musician or a classical composer works theme and variations. Think of the people in your memoir as inhabitants of a secret world each one hiding behind a mask that needs to be lifted.

The problem of memory and mind is chaos. Memory doesn’t work in a straight line but seems to come from all around you. One thought or memory trains into another and pretty soon you’ve got a whole cloud of feelings surrounding you. How do you get some control of the chaos of memory?

You use the Memoir Moment.

Musical in nature, deep in meaning, loaded with subtext, the memoir moment contains a delicious, sometimes hilarious, often painful memory that has etched itself in your unconscious

To get to the memoir moment, you follow your mind and your memory by writing about Firsts and Lasts — the first time I bled, the last time I kissed…

Firsts and  Lasts are Thresholds that you and the inhabitants of your memoir cross  on the life journey. The first time initiates, the last time severs with pain or memory or nostalgia.

To get a chain of memoir moments you write “I remember…”

  • I remember the time when…
  • I remember the time when…
  • I remember the time when…

First Time:

  • The first time I made love
  • The first time I bled
  • The first time my mother told me
  • My first day of school

First and  Last times are important Threshold Crossings-

Last Time:

  • At my last birthday party
  • The last time I wore
  • The last time I saw my mother
  • The last time I kissed
  • The last time I made love to
  • The last time you told me


Structure of the Memoir Moment: Think of the memoir moment as a theme with variations–

  • Theme: I remember the first time…
  • Variation 1: and that reminds me of the time when…
  • Variation 2: and when she said that, I remembered…
  • Recapitulation:  but nothing can be like the first time
  • Segue: Later, when I am

The personal memoir gathers its power not just from an intensive examination of the “I” or narrator, but from the other inhabitants the “I” encounters on the journey of discovery.



  1. Esther wrote:

    What a useful blog. Thanks, Jack and Bob!

    Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  2. Jack Remick wrote:

    Hi Esther–so many of our visitors are memoir writers that we’ve focused a lot on that genre. If there’s something you’d like to see up here, let us know. J

    Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink
  3. Hmm, interesting ideas here. I like both of these ideas — the memoir moment and the natural journey. Although my manuscript is a fictional coming of age story, I have quite intentionally structured it to be “memoir-like.” Your description of the memoir moment describes well the core element of many of my key scenes (although the etched-in memories are those recalled by the MC — not my own real memories). Thanks. This was thought-provoking.

    Saturday, February 12, 2011 at 12:26 am | Permalink
  4. allynh wrote:

    I have an odd question.

    Look at Stephen King’s _Duma Key_ or _Bag of Bones_, are they in effect memoir in style.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Permalink
  5. Jack Remick wrote:

    It’s a good question: Are they in memoir style?
    I haven’t read either of those books so I can’t speak to the question. That said: if the books are in first person, looking back at the past, bringing the past forward while commenting on it with present understanding then you could say they’re in memoir style without, of course, being memoirs.
    I ran a couple of pages of Duma Key on Amazon. It’s a first person narrative with dialogue and all the techniques of a novel. You could say it’s a novel in memoir style. The big difference however is in that dialogue. In memoir the questions are how much is true, how much invented, how much memory? The big divide is this:
    In a novel, the writer makes it up. In a memoir the writer, not being able to remember details at a distance solves the problem this way: In this situation, with these people this is what they could have, might have said, and then the writer writes it.
    More than you wanted to know? I’m sure of it. The answer to your question: Maybe. Yeah, what the heck. Memoir style.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Permalink
  6. allynh wrote:

    Yes, thanks…

    It gets me closer.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Permalink
  7. allynh wrote:

    Yes, thanks for the answer. Each time I would read about memoir I would remember the King books. True Horror is a memoir of events that happened to the character in the past. The Horror comes from surviving the events and having to relive them in memory. Read _Duma Key_ and _Bag of Bones_ to see what I mean. They are also about creativity. In fact, it is through creativity that the horror enters the character’s life.

    Since Horror is a fictional memoir you are already halfway to another book to write in the _Weekend Novelist_ series:

    _The Weekend Novelist Writes Horror_ or _The Horror of the Weekend Novelist_ HA!

    _The Weekend Novelist_ series are the key books I refer to other writers. I was lucky to stumble on the first book when it came out. It took me a while to realize what I had because I didn’t know enough about the process to understand what the book was even saying. I had the book for a year, then read a description of the book in the monthly _Writer’s Digest Book Club_ selection. I read the list of items in the book and said, “I need this book!” Then I turned to my shelves, and there it was. HA!

    I stumbled on the new blog after I bought _The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel_ and went looking for more. The diagrams section is great, and gives me more ideas.

    I wanted to point out that LibreOffice is a free office package like Microsoft Office that has _Drawing_ and _Presentation_ software to make diagrams and slide shows. Very powerful tools.


    I realized over the past few months that I’ve spent vast sums of money, since 1984, buying computers and software, just to write. That from now on the software I need will be either free or close to free from this point on. HA!

    Thank you for your time.

    Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink
  8. I wish I would have known Bob and Jack’s blog sooner. I have just published A Witch’s Memoirs by Arllaw. I was happy to know that I did manage to follow each moment to the next naturally. However, there are other parts I would have made better because of this site. Thank you Bob and Jack.

    Sunday, February 5, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

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  1. Memoir Moments | Literary Liaisons on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 9:26 am

    […] Need info on how to write a memoir? check out Jack and Bob’s blog, Memoir Moments. […]

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