Historical Political Memoir Highlights Setting

My favorite memoir style to ghostwrite lately has been historical political memoir. These memoirs are a very popular type of text for teachers to use, these days, in teaching world history (Remember Diary of Anne Frank?) especially because they aren’t dry and informational.

Historical Political Memoirs Illustrate the Importance of Setting

Memoirs are packed with real-life conflicts and show how political conflict affects ordinary people. Historical political memoirs illustrate the importance of setting (time and place) in every book.

Every memoir has some type of setting, starting with family. First, individuals stand against the backdrop of their families and the family culture, with its expectations and habits. Then, that family stands against a larger cultural setting.

When we set a memoir, we could be talking about, in the case of some of the books I’ve written, 1950s high school America, 1970s rural Alabama, Manhattan’s Upper East Side in the 1980s, or a backpacker’s hostel in India. Most American readers can conjure up some basic picture of such settings to form a basis for their understanding of the book. These are historical periods, but not necessarily highly political settings.

Writing About Political History is Complex

In a historical political memoir, the book’s background might be civil-war-era Cameroon or the time of the formation of the Soviet Union in Moldova. In these cases, most readers are starting at zero.

That means that, as a ghostwriter penning a historical political memoir, I have to not only give the family background, but also information about the region’s culture before the war, then during the war, and how the war or political action changed people and their expectations.

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Live in the Present, but Don’t Write That Way

a clock

Let’s talk about the use of present tense in a memoir. I’ll start by making it clear, I’m not a fan; the reason being, it’s impossible to have hindsight in present tense. Among those I’ve met or read who write memoirs in present tense, the author usually gives as a reason the idea of wanting that sense of immediacy, of putting the reader in the moment. They think writing in present tense gives them that. For me, I’ve never felt any more sense of immediacy when reading a story in present tense than in past tense. What gives a book a sense of unputdownable immediacy is good writing. I’m not being a grouch here, it’s just true. Simply changing tense isn’t going to make your writing more compelling.

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