Writing one's own personal history used to be called autobiography, Now, more and more, it is called memoir. The two words are often used interchangeably and the boundary between the two forms is fuzzy, but there are differences. An autobiography is usually a record of accomplishment. All kinds of people, more or less famous, can write them or be helped to write them: footballers, politicians, newsreaders. Deeds, fame and an interesting life are not necessary ingredients of the memoir.
The memoir's ambition is to be interesting in itself, as a novel might be, about intimate, personal experience. It often aspires to be thought of as "literary", and for that reason borrows many of literature's tricks - the tricks of the novel, of fiction - because it wants to do more than record the past; it wants to re-create it. If a memoir is to succeed on those terms, on the grounds that all lives are interesting if well-enough realised, the writing has to be good.
A small demonstration. Here is VS Pritchett in Midnight Oil, the second volume of his memoirs (though at the time of its publication in 1971, it was still called autobiography), when he's describing his time in 1920s Paris as a young man trying to lose his virginity. He takes a young Danish woman to a cafe:
"To talk about love is to make love: Hester and I were nervous of each other. I kept tapping the ash off my cigarette into an ash tray as we talked.
"'I wish you'd stop that,' she said and put the ash tray out of reach, but I touched her hand as she did this. She took her hand away quickly. The marble-topped table between us seemed to become 6ft wider and to heave like the sea."
And now here is Anne Robinson in her Memoirs of an Unfit Mother (2001), when in the early 1960s she loses her virginity:
"Sex. It was fantastically delicious! It happened in Frank's flat above a shop in the Fulham Road one night after we had been out to dinner... I bled. He was very tender about it. I imagine we made love several times more in the coming weeks."
This isn't to show that Pritchett was a better writer than Robinson - he was a better writer than most of his English generation. Writing - short stories, novels, essays - was what he did for a living, and he brought all his accumulated skill to his memoirs, which are beautiful recreations of his life 50 and more years before, particular in their detail (the ashtray, the table), brilliant in the way they evoke scenes, episodes and characters. Dialogue plays a large part: "'I haven't slept with any girls.' 'I don't believe you.'" Compare that to "I imagine we made love several times more in the coming weeks."
What marks the difference between Pritchett and Robinson, between memoir and autobiography, is that old division in writing between showing and telling. Pritchett shows - you are in the scene with him. Robinson tells - here are the events as she remembers them, and when she can't remember them too well ("I imagine...") she's honest enough to say so. The first is clear evidence of a novelist actual or manqué at work, the second of a writer with a more limited, or at least different, idea of what writing exists to do. If Pritchett had been Robinson - admittedly a difficult notion - we would have been in the flat above the shop in Fulham for several pages and we would have had a much larger sense of why sex was fantastically delicious.
A much larger but not necessarily true sense, however. Who can remember with any exactness how things were with themselves and others 50, or 40 or 10 years ago? And yet the novelistic detail - the conversation in the Paris café - is what matters so much in the writing of the modern memoir. When Frank McCourt was writing Angela's Ashes, did he really remember all those conversations from his impoverished childhood in Limerick? He claims so, because there was nothing much else to remember. And perhaps Pritchett kept very large diaries. If not, surely there's more beauty than harm in persuasive invention, as long as the general truth of things isn't distorted?
Pritchett's memoirs are among my favourite books, but my answer to the question is that I'm not sure. Memoir-writing has moved on a bit since Pritchett's day; young people write them; young people who have been to creative-writing school. Creative-writing schools aren't staffed by examining magistrates. In prose, believability rather than verifiable information is what properly concerns them.
A few years ago at Granta, I got a good piece about a boyhood, in, let's say to spare any embarrassment, a Scottish fishing port. In one vivid episode two trawlers sank in a storm, with the loss of both crews. The distress calls and radio messages between these and other boats were reproduced; there was a good and not at all sentimental scene when the boy sees a neighbour crying as he reads aloud the names of the lost men. I asked the writer for a small revision. When the piece came back, I noticed the names of the trawlers had changed. I wondered which were the right names. Slowly, it became clear that the writer had amalgamated two separate incidents - years apart - to serve the piece. He said (and I've heard the same words from publishers): "The piece is a memoir - it isn't non-fiction."
Does it matter? Well, if the trawlers didn't sink as described, did the neighbour cry as described? We can suppose that Pritchett said to himself: "I think it happened it like this - now I'll make it real." But that is some distance from: "It would have been better if it had happened like this... so I'll make it happen like this."
With old-fashioned autobiography, you should be on safer ground, though even with Robinson's plainly written (and good) account of her own life, I can sense a memoirist struggling to get out. She and I were colleagues 30 years ago on the Sunday Times, and I get a walk-on part on page 127. I've just come from Glasgow and she has asked me "out of pity for a young man alone in London" to have Sunday lunch at her house in Canonbury. Her then husband, Charlie Wilson, later editor of the Times but then at the Daily Mail, is also present. And also Scottish, but tough with it - "Gorbals" was the nickname.
"Charlie shared with him [me] his often-stated view that the Sunday Times was 'full of long-haired intellectuals who wouldn't know a story if it bit them in the balls'. Ian Jack agreed. 'Aye Charlie, it's no' so much a newspaper. More an adventure playground for journalists.'"
Roughly the same quote - minus the "Aye" - appears in Arnold Wesker's Journey Into Journalism , his account of his stay at the Sunday Times in 1971. I think I said it as an off-the-cuff remark one day in the newsroom, with no critical intent because I knew I was lucky to work there. Anne, who maybe too easily found things funny, was very taken with it and upped the Scottish content. So now I am a John Lawrie in Dad's Army - a verra verra distressing condeetion, ah'll have ye know - because on the page it helps the general idea of my Scottishness.
At least I think this is how it came about. I have no way of knowing. Memory, you are the weakest link. Goodbye.
Transcript of AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND BIOGRAPHY COMPARISON
AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND BIOGRAPHY COMPARISON
An Autobiography is a story about a person written by the same person.
It is a first-person account and sometimes the story can be highly personalized. It may include photos about the person's events or newspaper articles showing what the person accomplished and what were the news about him/her.
A Biography is the story of someone's life but it is written by someone else that studied that person's life. This stories normally have accurate history about the person's life and makes reflection about the time and place in which the person's events happened. It is also written in chronological time.
One similarity between an Autobiography and a Biography is that they both write about a person's life. Also, the historical facts in the person's life have to be accurate and they are normally written in chronological time.
The main differences between an autobiography and a biography are, first of all, biography is written by a person that studied a lot about another and a autobiography is written by himself/herself.Another main difference is that in a biography the author has to strictly study the persons life while in a autobiography the person enjoys more the writing.
Similarites and differences between Autobiography and Biography
For example: in a book called "Who Was Dr. Seuss?", someone called Janet Pascal, wrote the story. Unlike an autobiography, Nelson Mandela wrote the book, "Nelson Mandela", by himself. Even though, autobiographies and biographies seem similar, there are main differences that make them different types of writing.
Barnes and Nobles” BarnesandNobles.com 27 August 2013
Routman, Reggie. “Genre Characteristics” ux1.eiu.edu 27 August 2013
By: Alejandro Char
It was the day; the 27 of July, 2001. At 8:38 pm, at the city of Miami in the Jackson Hospital, one mom was giving birth to a wonderful child. My name: Alejandro Char, son of Alejandro Char and Katia Nule. I was born in the city of Miami, but at one week I was back at Colombia to visit my dad and all of my family. Since the day I visited Colombia, my life began and I got educated since then. Even though I had another sister, I enjoyed my only child life until my sister was born one year and a half later, on a 3rd of December, 2002.
Before I entered school, I went to other Kindergartens called “Baby Gym” and “Caritas Alegres”. When I entered school, I was 3 years old and it was when I met most of my friends. As I grew, I started to feel passion for sports, for example, soccer and tennis were the ones I played more as a child. When I was in pre-school, the only thing I did in all the day was kick soccer balls all the day, in the school and in my house too. When I entered elementary, things in school got harder because I had to study in school two more hours. But, I felt the same passion for sports.
Always, my favorite soccer team has been Junior, the Barranquilla team. It has won seven championships and is looking for more. Talking about teams and players, I got interested in tennis because of a great all-time player called Roger Federer. He inspired me to start playing tennis in second grade, and that’s where my tennis carrier begins. I practiced both, soccer and tennis in the country club, during third grade. Two days I had soccer practice, and the other two days I practiced tennis. But, after that, I went to practice at, “La Liga De Tenis del Atlantico”, where tennis practices were more intense. Since that moment, I felt more passion in tennis than soccer. So, by the start of fourth grade, I practiced tennis six hours a week.
I did all of fourth grade playing tennis intensely, while soccer was only one day a week. When I got to fifth grade I made a decision that, in my opinion, changed a lot in my life: I decided to just focus on playing tennis and taking no more soccer practices. So, since that moment, I only practiced tennis and started playing national tennis tournaments. During fifth grade period I got to some semifinals and doubles finals. But, when I entered sixth grade, I started playing bigger, better, stronger, and with more power. And after that I’ve won 5 double championships and I have reached 3 singles finals. This, for me, is a great achievement, but I have the rest of my life to play.
So, my life has only been lived 12 years, and I have much more to live during my life. And the last thing I’ve done, was telling you my story in Mrs. Van Loo’s class….