Structure is the primary concern of the writer, how to order all the key emotional plot points to keep the reader turning pages.

A memoir is not an autobiography. Unfortunately, unless you are a sportsperson, politician, musician, or movie star, no one cares about where you were born or your ancestral history, how your parents met, and what you did in grade three. Unless, of course, this is of itself interesting enough to be a story. A memoir is a slice of your whole life, focused around a topic, an idea or theme, a specific time, or linked moments that resonate around a search or question of some kind.

Here are 6 STEPS to help you find your structure.


When shaping your memoir, it helps to narrow the focus as much as possible – not just My Journey to Healing, but My Struggle with Addiction from recognition of the issue to finally getting clean. Not My whole life was leading to this but The Last three years of growth. Not My entire family history but My discovery of my lost grandmother. The narrower the focus the better.


This may be the inciting incident, or it may be another emotional turning point in your story that hooks the reader in and establishes what the story will be about. For example, the first scene in a medical recovery memoir may be in a doctor’s office receiving a diagnosis. Or finding a hidden photograph of a woman who looks strangely familiar, but that no one has ever mentioned. Make sure you are front and centre in the scene, making decisions and acting.


At the beginning of any story, it’s very important that we are grounded in time and place. Establish where your story is set. Is it set in the gritty backstreets of Logan or the leafy riverside suburbs? In India or Australia? Where are we, and most importantly WHO ARE WE WITH? In memoir you are the central character. The “you” from the past is not who you are now. Describe yourself with a few specific details, illustrate your character by showing interactions with others. And most importantly, give us something to connect with, a moment of vulnerability or relationship so we care about you as a character. If we see you as a person who is loved, if only by your cat, we’re more likely to want to share your story.

  • INCITING INCIDENT –What moment in time propelled you on this story journey – a diagnosis, finding yourself asleep in a gutter, an accident, a betrayal? This plot point come quite early in the story.
  • CLIMAX What was the most dramatic emotional moment during this period of your life? This is the point you are writing towards. Structure all other emotional turning points so that they lead up to this point. Put your Heart Clutching Moments on index cards and order them so they peak at the climax. Often with memoir, chronological order can work best, but weaving background story through moments of high drama works well too.
  • ENDING – Where to end? We don’t need to come right up to the present day. After all the present day is shifting quickly. Is there a moment of revelation, a moment of hope, or a time where the issue seemed to resolve? This is real life so no resolution or moment will ever be the complete end of the story, but you can’t continue writing your memoir until you die. Not if you want it published anyway. So, find a place where the story feels at least in some way to have found a natural ending and be content with leaving it there.

And remember, as with all narratives, in order to keep your readers turning the page we need to keep them moving between HOPE and FEAR. See my post HERE.

Were these points useful for you? Have you got any questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you.

The next RELAX AND WRITE RETREAT is all about memoir and life writing. In Highfields near Toowoomba among the trees. Come along and connect with like-minded women and get those stories out of your head and onto the page. Perfect for memoirists and those with stories to tell who just need to make a start. Only $380 all inclusive if you book before the end of August 2021. CONTACT ME for more info.

GOOD LUCK! Memoirists are the most courageous of writers. Go forth and roar!

Lots of love

Edwina xx

ANECDOTE vs. STORY What’s the Difference?


When I first started writing I got a few rejections saying my pieces were anecdotes and not stories. After I’d dried my tears, I began to wonder what the difference was?

What is it that makes a story a story, and an anecdote something you tell your friends but don’t get published?


An ANECDOTE is an incident from our lives that we tell our mates down at the pub or over a cup of tea. This tale may have many of the elements of a story – setting, characters and action – but usually that’s it.

For example –

When people notice the scar running from my forehead down along my left temple beside my eye, I tell them an anecdote about how, when I was fourteen, I was searching for organisms out on the rocks at Deadman’s Beach (true!) during my school biology camp on Stradbroke Island.


A huge wave came hurtling towards us and I braced myself by facing into the barnacle covered rocks, gripping on for dear life. The wave crashed over me and my classmates, and smashed my face into the rocks, dragging me as it fled back out to sea, grating my face against the barnacles. Adrenaline pumping, I scrambled to my feet and leapt  over the rocks, racing to shore where my poor teacher was greeted with a bloody mess like Sissy Spacek at the end of Carrie.

I was almost helicoptered back to Brisbane, but the local island doctor was used to shark bites and stitched my face back together again – sixty stitches in all. I wasn’t a pretty sight. Once I got back home my friend took some photos and we entered me in a Dolly Magazine Covergirl Competition. We thought we were pretty funny. Needless to say, I didn’t win 🙂


As you can see, this anecdote has plenty of action and drama and even a happy ending. But it’s not a story. WHY?

Because it only tells what happened. An anecdote doesn’t reflect on the events and dig deeper to find meaning.

STORIES on the other hand are how humans make sense of the world and what happens to us. They delve deep into the emotional heart of what that incident meant to us and how we were changed as a result. A story creates MEANING from the meaningless.

For example –

What if I told you this accident happened only a couple of months after the death of my young father? What if I told you that when the wave hit something inside me hoped that it would tear me away and take me to where my father was. What if I wrote about how, as the doctor stitched my face back together again, he sang the Death March. What if I wrote about how my best friend tenderly helped me wash the blood out of my hair that night as I sat in a cold bath. What if I told you that I lay awake for hours in my bunk, trying to convince myself that my father’s death had been a bad dream I’d had while knocked out, that he would be waiting for me on the other side of the ferry?



Then we’d have a story.  A story I haven’t written yet, but just might.

“Dig deeper,” I tell the memoirists I edit and teach. Don’t be afraid. Go deeper and find the true heart of your story. Turn that anecdote into something that touches people.

Have you got an anecdote or two you could dig deeper into to create meaning? Search hard enough and everything that happens has another layer of story reflecting human experience.

That’s what we writers do, we write to make sense of the world.

Want to learn more? Come along to my next retreat in the mountains with a special focus on memoir writing. Great for beginners too, and anyone needing to reboot their writing mojo!


Let me know how you go!

Lots of love