Biography, Autobiography and Memoir

One of the first school writing assignments I can remember was to write an autobiography. I wrote about everything I could remember or was told from the moment of my birth until my current age at the time (probably about 12 years old). Not exactly the stuff of legends, but nevertheless, it was the first time I had ever thought about my life as continuum of growth, both physically and intellectually.  It was the first time I really looked at my own place in the larger world. Until that moment, I had only thought of myself as I existed in that moment in time, without much thought of where I had come from or where I was going.

Most of us are pretty clear about the difference between biography and autobiography having had it pounded into our brains in school. A biography is written by a person that has studied a lot about another person. While it is usually a detailed description of a person’s life, it involves more than just the basic facts. It portrays the story of a person’s experience with these life events. It highlights various aspects of the person’s life, including intimate details of experience, and may even include an analysis of the subject’s personality or a reflection about he time and place in which the events happened.

An autobiography, on the other hand, is written by the author about himself/herself. It is a first-person account and can often be highly personalized. An autobiography focuses on the chronology of the writer’s entire life. Autobiography is a review of a person’s own life from a particular moment in time. In my case, it was from birth to age 12. Now here’s where it gets confusing.  Autobiography differs from diary or journal writing which focuses on a series of moments in time, such as birthdays, first love, break-ups, etc. It is usually written in present tense about something that happened recently. A prime example is The Diary of Anne Frank. Yet another form of autobiography is the memoir. The primary difference here is that the memoir tends to focus less on the self and more on others during the autobiographer’s review of his or her own life.


That leads me to the categorization of my first book, Windborne. While it is heavily based on autobiographical incidents and family stories passed down through the generations, it reads like a memoir. It is reminiscent and based on memory. However, the characters and some of the events depicted have been fictionalized to move the story forward.

So is it fiction or nonfiction?

Creating fiction and passing it off as nonfiction, is completely unacceptable. Memoirs are actually narrative nonfiction written in story form like fiction. They are factual stories. In the case of Windborne, I guess I would classify it as fictional memoir. It is written from the omniscient “god” point of view so that the reader can feel and know everything each character is experiencing. One reviewer described it as if the narrator were looking down from heaven and observing the events in a compressed time period, sort of like the folks in the cemetery in Our Town.

In desperation, I have listed it in the Amazon categories as literary fiction, historical fiction and family saga. I hope you find it there. Let me know what category you think it fits in.





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