Biography, autobiography, the anecdotal memoir and me.

memoir and bio montageFirst, a couple of definitions.

A biography is a nonfiction story of a person’s life. To be considered biography, the biography must be as true as possible, based on factual evidence.

An autobiography is a nonfiction story of a person’s life, written by that person. Both biography and autobiography tell the story a life from birth until death – or to the present day, in the case of the autobiography.

A memoir, on the other hand, is written by an author about their own life, but has more in common with narrative nonfiction than biography in terms of style. Instead of telling about the entire life of a person, the memoir tells only about a certain period of time or bout a certain story arc of the author’s life.

And then there is the anecdotal memoir for which I could not find a succinct definition on the Internet. So I’ll offer the definition I’ve cobbled together. An anecdote is a short account of a particular incident or event, especially of an interesting or amusing nature. Combine that with the definition of a memoir and you have a series of incidents sharing a common theme or setting or protagonist. And I can cite a few examples:

  • Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher, incidents from the actress’s life.
  • My Anecdotal Life: A Memoir by Carl Reiner, memories of his career in entertainment.
  • Spray the Bear by Walter W. Bregman, reminisces from the golden age of advertising.
  • Searching for the Sound: My Life With the Grateful Dead by Phil Lesh, billed as the ultimate insider’s perspective on the high adventures and low moments of this San Fran Band.


So here’s my point. To date I have composed about 22,000 words containing a series of events, incidents, and anecdotes from the first three decades of my life living in the same northeastern city. What ties them together is the protagonist (me), the setting (The City) and the variety. Some are dramatic, some humorous, some deal with crime, school days, religion and more. Most are about 1,500 words long, and that is intentional. They are roughly chronological because some events were when I was younger and later events reflect some things I had learned as I grew.

But I had come to a point at which what to call this collection of anecdotes, but full disclosure, the phrase “anecdotal memoir” had crossed mind, long before I researched it. Mu research confirmed my belief that such a genre exists.

So what are the implications, is the rhetorical question. I have a goal in how many words are in other anecdotal memoirs? If my work is shy, what else of value can I mine from my years in The City? Do I have a potential target market for such a work, e.g., the city that is the setting and its libraries and schools? Who are the likely publishers of such works. And so on.

I know one person who is working on a memoir, a full fledged memoir about being educated in a military-style school. It begin in the third grade and concludes with his entrance in college. Another person is attempting what I call, for want of a better term, a motivational book, citing various incidents that had an impact on his life. I have argued that this second person would be better suited thinking in terms of an anecdotal memoir. Related the event and then offer a code of sorts describing what he learned or how it affected his life. It’s the old saw of show not tell.


I think it exciting to find that not so much that you have not created a new genre but that quiver of arrowsthere is such a genre and there may be room in it for you. It’s like having one more arrow in your writer’s quiver. That’s cool.

Any favorite genres you want to share?


About Bob McCarthy

Originally from the Northeast, I now call Southwest Florida home. I have been a professional copywriter and editor since 1979, both freelance and in house. I have had article published in regional, national and international magazines. Plus, a video for which I wrote the script won an industry award as Best Training Video.
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