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Writing a Personal Memoir

How to Write an Essay about an Important Person, Place, or Thing in Your Life





Tell Your Story

Writing a Personal Memoir 

How To tell a Good Story about a Person, Place or Thing



 The Power of Memory


We all have people, places or things in our lives that are really important to us.  A “Memoir” is a story we tell about that person, place or thing.

The person could be a friend, a grandparent or parent, brother or sister, or aunt or uncle—anybody whom you know well and who helps you feel special and loved, or who has helped you through a hard time in life, or who is inspired and inspiring.

The place could be a vacation spot, a room in the house, a treefort in the backyard, or any place that you remember fondly and vividly as being different and special.

A thing could be a pet, a toy, a book, a gift or any “thing” that also has that special effect on you that makes “it” worth remembering.

There are many ways to write memoirs, but here is a simple and straightforward rubric to help you write a prose memoir quickly, and, with a bit of thought, effectively and poignantly.



Some more cool tips & tricks to help you write well…


Henry David Thoreau

Write often, write upon a thousand themes, rather than long at a time, not trying to turn too many feeble somersets in the air–and so come down upon your head at last. Antaeus-like, be not long absent from the ground. Those sentences are good and well discharged which are like so many little resiliencies from the spring floor of our life–a distinct fruit and kernel itself, springing from terra firma. Let there be as many distinct plants as the soil and the light can sustain. Take as many bounds in a day as possible. Sentences uttered with your back to the wall. Those are the admirable bounds when the performer has lately touched the spring board.
(November 12, 1851)


Kurt Vonneghut

Vonnegut offers eight essential tips on how to write a short story:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.


James Joyce

Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.


Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you desire to arrest attention, to surprise, do not give me the facts in the order of cause and effect, but drop one or two links in the chain, and give me a cause and an effect two or three times removed.


Annie Dilliard

Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? Can the writer renew our hope for literary forms? Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking.

~The Writing Life

 A Simple Memoir Rubric

We all have people, places or things in our lives that are really important to us.  A “Memoir” is a story we tell about that person, place or thing.

The person could be a friend, a grandparent or parent, brother or sister, or aunt or uncle—anybody whom you know well and who helps you feel special and loved, or who has helped you through a hard time in life, or who is inspired and inspiring.

The place could be a vacation spot, a room in the house, a treefort in the backyard, or any place that you remember fondly and vividly as being different and special.

A thing could be a pet, a toy, a book, a gift or any “thing” that also has that special effect on you that makes “it” worth remembering.

There are many ways to write memoirs, but here is a simple and straightforward rubric to help you write a prose memoir quickly, and, with a bit of thought, effectively and poignantly.



1. Assignment Details:

  • It is always wise to format a writing piece exactly as your editor or teacher requires, so be sure that your final piece is presented in the proper style and format.


  • Your main title tries to capture the major theme or themes of your essay in a broad and interesting way
  • Your title and quote should help to attract readers and set the tone and style of the memoir you create.
  • The quote can be a quote from another person or piece of literature—or it can be a direct quote from the person you are writing about!
  • It should be centered on your page in size 18 font two double spaces down from your assignment information.
  • Consider inserting an image above your Main Title




  • The subtitle points the reader in the direction of your memoir subject.
  • Make this as interesting and compelling as you can.
  • Use size 14 italic font centered directly below the main title.



 Guiding Quote:

  • A good quote helps to set the tone and direction—and it serves to reinforce the major theme of a writing piece and prepares the reader for what is coming.
  • If you don’t have a quote in your head (and most of us don’t) simply think of a one-word quality of your person place or thing and find a quote online.
  • Put your Quote in italics (no quotation marks are need) beneath your title.
  • Be sure to note your source beneath the quote without italics.




The Opening Paragraph

Set the Scene & State the Theme

 Set the Scene:

  • Drop your readers into the scene.
  • In this opening paragraph, start with a scene which describes you doing something memorable with your memoir person (or what you are doing in your “place” or or with your “thing”).
  • Show us what is happening by describing in vivid detail a single scene from the experience you are retelling.
  • Use plenty images and actions (and dialogue if you can) to paint with words a complete picture of the action taking place.
  • Describe everything about that scene using specific images and actions to “paint” a scene in reader’s imagination.Remember that your readers were not with you, so be sure to include who was there; what was happening; when it was happening; where it was happening, and why it was happening.

Feel free to use any of the other techniques listed in “How To Write an Essay Opening”




 State the Theme:

  • End the opening paragraph by writing the one special attribute that you like most about that person, place or thing.  That “thing” becomes the “theme” of your memoir.
  • stating the theme is a way of creatively and effectively capturing the main reason you are telling this story!
  • This is often called the main theme, premise, or thesis of a story.
  • Put this sentence (or sentences) right at the end of the first paragraph. It is a logical jumping off place for the any essay, narrative or otherwise.






The Body Paragraphs

 Tell Your Story.  Say What you mean.  Write Well. 

  • Now tell the whole story using as many paragraphs as you need.
  • Consider using the Narrative Paragraph Rubric to write most of your body paragraphs.
  • Be sure to include images and actions AND your thoughts and feelings about what is happening as you go along.
  • Dialogue is always good to include.
  • Remember that whenever a new person is speaking you need to create a new paragraph.

  First Body Paragraph

  • In your first body paragraph write about why this person, place or thing is important to you.
  • Tell us your thoughts and feelings, and describe the specific “actions” this makes this memory so special.
  • Try and write at least five sentences–more if you can write more.
  • Use my Narrative Paragraph Rubric if it helps to keep you on target.
  • Reread “How To Tell a Good Story” and use the suggested storytelling techniques.


 Second Body Paragraph:

  • You may always write more than three body paragraphs, so these point apply to all inner body paragraphs.
  • Copy and paste your second body paragraph you created.
  • You may need or want to revise the beginning broad theme of your second paragraph, so that you don’t lose the continuity of your main theme.
  • At the end of this paragraph (or series of paragraphs) you need to transition to your final body paragraph, so in your last sentence give your readers a clue that there is still more to come!


Third or Final Body Paragraph: 

  • Copy and paste your third or final body paragraph you created using the narrative paragraph rubric.
  • Be a preacher, philosopher and wise person and “tell” your readers what you learned from this experience.
  • In this paragraph you will complete the “trinity of themes” that you explicate in your memoir.
  • This paragraph should have a “and not only that, but…” feel to it that helps to make your subject even more “memorable.”
  • This paragraph needs to “feel” like a final paragraph. By the end of this paragraph your readers should feel like you delivered on the promise of your thesis.
  • Since you are not transitioning to a new body paragraph, your final line of this paragraph should be conclusive, confident—and above all—clear and concise.


The Conclusion: Parting Words

Finish it Clean


  • Start your last paragraph by telling us why everyone should have a person like your memoir person, a place like your place, or a thing like your thing in his or her life.
  • End the paragraph with one short sentence that” captures” why your person, place or thing is so great—and maybe even use an exclamation point at the end. For example: “Uncle Tony really is the coolest guy in the world!”
  • Don’t introduce any new experiences in the conclusion–only reference what you have already written.
  • If you need more help, go to “How to Write an Essay Conclusion” for more tips and tricks.




Some examples of Memoirs…

Here is a memoir  wrote for my sister. I used the rubric, but I added more body paragraphs to tell the story of my sister’s life.  

Always remember that my rubrics are “guides,” not “rules.” The most important thing is to tell a good story to the best of your ability!

John Fitz
Essay Writing
Mr. Mean’s Class
Memoir Assignment

When Cool Was Really Cool

Remembering the Coolest Sister Ever

Life is not counted by the amount of breaths we take,
but of the moments that leave us breathless.


          We were coming home from church one morning and Jimmy Glennon pulled up beside us as we approached the Sudbury road lights. He didn’t notice the well-dressed family of eight scrunched into our old Pontiac station wagon as he revved the engine of his yellow and black mustang fastback. I was crammed in the rearward facing back seat doling out peace signs and air horn salutes, but the scene unfolding in front of me was one of the coolest scenes ever: here was the guy Patty had a date with the night before seeming to challenge my father to a drag race, or at the very least humiliate, the infamous and fiery EJ—on a Sunday morning no less. When the light turned green, Jimmy pulled away in a squeal of burning rubber and glorious smoke, fishtailing his car as he laid down a patch—a testament etched like black marker into the road, and which would last  several more months of my bragging to my friends that I had the coolest big sister in town, and I would retell that story to every new kid who sat next to me on the bus as we drove by that spot every weekday on the way to the Peabody Middle School. That moment sealed it for me: I really did have the coolest big sister in town—and now I could prove it in the hardscrabble myth-making of a crowded kid-filled neighborhood. I could now glow in the reflected light of her infinite coolness, and I still live in that light, but it is now deeper, richer, and more penetrating, with a lingering and haunting pain that still leaves me numb and lonely; but, through Patty we can all be cool; we can live with a richer understanding of our dreams, our struggles, and our potential to embrace the scope of the day, and we can simply share the patchwork mosaic that she wove with the divergent strands of our lives.

When I was young, Patty lived in another age. She moved as a phantom through the house because she was like eighteen when I was eleven; she had friends who would hoist me to the top of the basketball hoop bolted above the garage door; she had friends who played guitars in the basement and pierced each other’s ears, and she had friends in prison and friends who died in the Vietnam war, and she had friends that she kept for all of her shortened life—most of whom are here today. My other sisters were never as cool as Patty. Eileen, in her quest for perfection, would charge me a quarter if I didn’t make my bed right; Mary Ellen would lament that I was embarrassing the whole family because of my bad pitching in little league, and Annie, who was almost as young as Patty was old, was too little to be cool and did things like take our meal orders before supper on a stolen Friendlies waitress pad. My little brother Tom never seemed to feel the need to be cool.

So it all fell on me.

I really wanted to be cool. I wanted a different and clear slant on life like Patty, but I certainly did not want to work as hard as her; so, like so many other people, I used her as my mentor—my guide through the vagaries and vicissitudes of life.  And she guided me well: she had a way of making your little adventure or undertaking be one of immense importance, but, equally important, she would put her life into your venture by helping to make it become real.  She knew that anything worth trying was worth doing, and so any dream could be pounded into reality; any project could be finished, and any problem or struggle had a way through, and her hand was always there to help it happen.

Patty gave me faith in all that is infinite and eternal because that was the nature and source of her energy.  Need a book typeset? Just drop it off. Need a sweater? Just drop a hint. How about a party or a place to stay? A weekend at the cape? A babysitter for the weekend? How about a car? Patty would hand down her cars like other people would their sweatshirts.  Patty had that rare thing: a wisdom that was not proud of itself and a door that was always open.

The more you knew Patty, the richer you would become. The best part of going to U-Mass was the chance to live near Patty. I mistakenly thought that living near Patty would put us on equal footing. It was there where I lived, not only in the light of her coolness, but in light of her kitchen, where I would show up on a regular basis with a regular stream of spiritually and physically hungry friends, all of whom found that cool as she was, Patty was also warm and magnanimous beyond compare. It was in her kitchen where I first got to hang out with her as a friend, confidant, and cheerleader. My first night at U-Mass, we met for beer down at The Drake, a classic dive of a bar with smoke and pool tables and peanut strewn floors. It seemed strange and normal to be sitting down with her and Donald—her avowed Marxist, long-haired, archaeologist boyfriend who complimented her so perfectly and would soon become her perfect husband and partner and soul-mate until death parted their life together.

It may seem dumb, but it was like a first date for me.  But, it was better than Jimmy Glennon burning rubber at the route two lights; it was better than her taking off with Tubby in an old Triumph Spitfire—and Mary and EJ panicked that she was eloping—with a Jewish boy at that.  Better than when her and Mary Ellen got caught pinning up their catholic school skirts at the bus-stop; better than when one of her friends escaped from prison; better than hearing that her dorm in Southwest was the target of another drug raid; better than when her and a couple of friends hopped in the back of an old bakery truck and moved to Oregon—and EJ making me promise not to tell her mother that it wasn’t a real bus. It was better because it was finally real and not just my vision of some more exciting reality.  We were in a smoky bar and laughing and talking and telling stories, and she was with a guy who made her laugh and made her incredibly happy. I could feel her knitting together the best fibers of our family and creating a tapestry that nothing can undo—a tapestry that has stood the test of time.

Patty showed that small gestures are huge, and that huge actions are always doable. She would call and be as excited about her student Rodney’s wrestling match as she would winning teacher of the year. She would drive five hours to have dinner with my mother, or to bring a swimming list to Alba, or to drop off a present for one of your kids. She showed how simple it is for giving to be a gift for everyone involved.

In the perfect memory of love, Patty will always live on. And we will always be amazed, humbled, and for me, sometimes simply awestruck … and breathless.