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What are the differences between a memoir and a diary?

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  • 1 decade ago
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    Memoir is a creative rendering of a person's experiences. It can be short (one memory written in the length of a magazine article) or book-length (e.g. "Running With Scissors"). I say "creative rendering" because memoir seeks to engage the reader in a life story while straight autobiography seeks more in line of factual reporting. As John Barth says, "Your life story is not your life, it is your story." Memoir tries to be entertaining as it tells about a person's life.

    Diaries aren't really written with an audience in mind, other than the author. Diaries also tend to be more of an accounting of the day's events rather than an effort to understand/get others to understand the event (like a memoir does). I hope this helps.

    Check out memoir titles like "The Liar's Club" by Mary Karr, "Hole In My Life" by Jack Gantos, "Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt, or "The Glass Castle" by Jeanette Walls

    Memoir continues to be one of the most popular nonfiction genres in publishing, but who doesn't want to sometimes sneak a peek at someone's diary? :)

    Source(s): myself - I teach memoir workshops in addition to teaching it as a genre in secondary education
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  • 1 decade ago

    A diary tells what happens within a specific time frame and is written about specific things that have happened. It doesn't address the person to whom these things happened. Diaries are usually written as a record of events, transactions or observations kept daily or at frequent intervals.

    In Calkin's book, Living Between the Lines, Ernest Becker states: "What human beings fear is not growing old, but growing old without things adding up."

    That is why we write our memoirs.

    Memoirs are not personal narratives. Memoirs are not single moments. Memoirs are about the plot lines or patterns that bind those moments together.

    Virginia Woolf says, "A memoir is not what happens, but the person to whom things happen."

    Writing a memoir has everything to do with rendering the ordinariness of our lives so that it becomes significant. Rather than writing with statistics, memoir is written with scenes.

    Memoir allows one to select images, events, and treasures that reveal important things about themselves. The central challenge in memoir writing is to find out how particular moments fit into the plot lines of one's own life. One must not only discover the moment of their lives, but the meanings in those moments.

    Memoir is always double-edged. In memoir the unfolding story is always being remembered by a writer who is now older and wiser. Interestingly enough, whenever there is a "then" and a "now" in memoir, there seem to be both moments and meanings.

    In this light, memoir writing makes the past real and vivid and compelling, as if it happened yesterday. The smells, and sounds from other times develop rich, evocative writing. We in turn learn more than a diary provides.

    Noreen Brand, Program and Education Coordinator, Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida.

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  • 1 decade ago

    A diary is a personal account of someone's life. It tends to be current & day to day. To me, a diary is a way of sorting out one's thoughts, and keeping secrets. A diary is almost like having a friend that would never spill your personal secrets. Memoirs are more like an autobiography spanning a person's entire life from their own personal knowledge. Notable events, things they've learned, and such.

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  • 1 decade ago

    A memoir is a paragraph of a memory. A diary is a book of memories and personal thoughts.

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