Politics Matter: Include them in your Memoir

Let’s talk today about political memoirs. When your story is inextricably tied to the political events going on where you live–for instance if you grew up in wartime–your memoir is unavoidably political. Even if you don’t want to put forth any particular opinion about these events, you can’t avoid talking about how these events shaped your life.

Setting is everything when politics matter

Setting is crucial in any story, but in a memoir, showing the time and place that made you who you are makes your story much more interesting. Oftentimes, your story is really the story of a whole generation of people whose lives were shaped by political events, so your memoir says a lot more about the world, and human nature, than you may at first realize. Including the crucial political events–such as wars, battles inside the wars, elections, political coups, international interventions, and so forth–show how your life choices were affected by these outside forces, which shows readers how all our lives, even if we don’t realize it at the time, are affected by such forces.

Overlap the personal and the political

Sometimes, as a memoir ghostwriter, I have clients who want to either focus exclusively on the political aspects, or the personal aspects, of their life stories. What they don’t realize is that showing how these elements tie together is what memoir is all about. Who your friends were during the Cuban Missile crisis matters. What games you played as a child, while buildings were being bombed a few miles away–it all matters. The contrast between the minutia of daily life and the huge world events that took place around you makes your life so much more interesting.

Omitting either the political or the personal element of the story will simply reduce the reader’s emotional connection to you. This is why setting matters. Think of a romance novel–you usually have two interesting people placed into an interesting setting, and sparks fly from there. Your memoir may not be a romance, but it can draw on that same principle by making the setting–meaning time, place, and political background–essentially a character in the book.

Writing reframes your life and world events

Finally, talking about the political background to your life often helps memoir writers actually realize how those events did affect them. As a memoir ghostwriter, I find many clients don’t realize how their world shaped them, but looking at it closely often results in revelations that make them wonder what life would have been like if that war hadn’t happened, if they hadn’t lived in that particular place . . . but they did. And that’s life. That’s why we write about our lives. Things outside our control can affect us deeply, and when we show how such events made us a rebel or a fighter or a conformer or a careful person or a risk taker or a lover or a hater, we learn about ourselves, and our readers see themselves in us.

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