Biography vs Memoir
What is a biography?
What is a memoir?
What's the difference between memoir vs biography?
Memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies are all forms of non-fiction that explore an individual’s life.
But what’s the difference? Let’s explore.
A memoir is a piece of writing about a particular period or theme of a person’s own life, focused on feelings personal experiences, reflection, and threading meaning. It’s usually written in first person, and usually covers moments or themes that have been impactful or meaningful. You’re less likely to find chronological, factual information and more likely to find exploration of meaning and cohesion between events. Memoir writers focus on their own experiences and perspectives, and can express themselves with introspection, analysis, or story-driven narrative.
What is a biography?
A biography is a non-fiction written account of someone else’s life. It’s typically written by a third person, in third-person tense. It covers the subject’s life events, accomplishments, and personal traits. They’re typically comprehensive, but could focus on a particular period or aspect of the person’s life. They’re usually written about public figures or famous people from history. Author’s don’t necessarily need permission or endorsement to write a biography about someone.
Biographies are meant to be accurate and objective, and are based on research and interviews with people who knew the subject. Unlike memoir, the author obviously did not experience the events firsthand – at least not all of them!
As biographer Walter Isaacson said, "A good biography should be like a detective story that tells you not only what people did, but also what they thought and why they did it." Walter Isaacson is one of the world’s most successful biographers, having written extensive biographies on many of the world’s most well-known people.
Here are five of the best-known biographies:
- "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson
- "Alexander Hamilton" by Ron Chernow
- "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future" by Ashlee Vance
- "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" by Edmund Morris
- "Cleopatra: A Life" by Stacy Schiff.
Both biography and memoir are non-fiction accounts of a person's life.
Differences between Biography and Memoir
There are two main differences between biographies and memoirs.
First, biographies are written by somebody other than the subject of the book - whereas memoirs are written by the subject of the book.
Secondly, memoirs have more room to explore feelings and themes, and might only be about a certain part or theme of the subject's life. A biography is more fulsome and also more factual. It can't rely on feelings as much, as the biographer didn't experience the emotions of the subject first hand. In many cases, the biographer never meets the subject.
So what does No Story Lost do?
Interestingly, we produce a product that has elements of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs!
Like memoir, we capture feelings of our storytellers and reflect on their emotions.
Like autobiography, the books are usually comprehensive and accurate, and told by the person in the book – our storyteller! Our books are usually written in the first person.
Like a biography, there’s some writing done by a third party (that's us!).
One thing to note, though, is our product is not a ghost-written memoir. We don’t re-write, interpret, or add narrative. The words in the book are the words of our storyteller – though we'll tidy up errors, pauses, and repetition so that the book reads beautifully.
Click here to learn more about our life story projects.
Definition of biography: an account of someone's life written by someone else.
Definition of memoir: an autobiography or a written account of one's memory of certain events or people.