Hannah’s Notes on Emily Chenoweth’s Presentation: Memoir or Fiction? Make The Most of Your Choice

NWAS Season Five WHS Student Intern: Hannah Burke

For the month of October, published author and Oregon resident Emily Chenoweth talked about the differences between memoirs and works of fiction; she also mentioned which style will work best for those interested in putting their lives on paper. Her own novel Hello Goodbye  was originally going to be a memoir about a week with her mom – whom was suffering from terminal cancer – but, through a lack of specific memories and a desire for characters derived from her own imagination, Chenoweth changed her memoir into a bestselling novel.

We started a writing exercise: six word memoirs. This activity emphasized that both memoirs and autobiographical fiction will contain conflicts. Everyone wrote their own memoir in six words and here are a few examples from the group:

“Snipers, minefields, wine, women, and therapy.”

“Done more than anyone I know!”

“Got old. Looked Back. Can’t remember.”

“Highly analytical, aspire to be artistic.”

“Smiling again. Don’t really mean it.”

“Tenacity should be my middle name.”

“High road was full of potholes.”

For those of you interested in writing memoirs, Chenoweth made a few suggestions in keeping it both true and entertaining:

Memories are key elements.

You MUST write the hard things.

It will need to be revised, even if some things need to be left out.

They need to be honest with very little speculation.

If you don’t remember exact details, that’s okay, just be honest with your reader.

Don’t be afraid to hurt people, “write as if all the characters are dead.”

For those of you interested in writing an autobiographical novel — which, according to Chenoweth, reviewers recommend — here are some tips:

Again, don’t worry about people’s feelings.

Try to play with point of views so that the story can be seen from all sides.

You can exaggerate or understate true elements.

Include a mix of action and memoirs.

Start with the truth, then let the narrative take over.

For both memoirs and novels, Chenoweth provided us with a good shaping formula:






Remember, all writing makes you a better writer. “It’s hard to write about our life’s in anything longer than a Facebook update,” so it is important that you exercise you writing muscles in order to be the best writer that you can be. If you are ever facing a writer’s block and need inspiration, you can always try to write a six word memoir of your own.


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