Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Memoir and Biography

Memoir vs Biography

What is the difference between a biography and a memoir? Both biographies and memoirs tell the stories of a person’s life. They are generally found in the format of a book, which is where the original meaning is used, but it may also be observed taking the modern shape of a movie or video documentary. It might be said that you are “reading a biography of George Washington and then you will watch the movie, that is also a biography of his life”. You may also “read the memoirs of George Washington, that he wrote while fighting the Revolutionary War”. The differences between the usage of ‘biography’ and ‘memoir’ are technical, but important to know and understand for correct usage.

A biography gives a general account of the events of someone’s life. Most published or filmed biographies are about historical figures or famous people. A biography generally starts with a person’s childhood. It may even begin the telling of the story before the person was born, in order to better understand the person’s family situation or the events in the lives of the person’s parents. A biography ends with the person’s death, or if they are still alive, with a momentous event or current situation in their life. It chronicles or tells the events in their life in the order that they happened. It may have commentary, discussion or interpretation on the events in a person’s life, but it mostly focuses on factual or historical evidence. An autobiography is a biography that someone has written about their own life in a similar manner as a biography. This may be published while they are still alive or posthumously, after the person has died.

A memoir focuses on certain memories, experiences or particular aspects of someone’s life. It is less broad and less general than a biography. A memoir is written by the person it is about or written by a professional writer at the request of the person. Usually a memoir has more of a focus on emotions and feelings rather than merely an account of chronological events, such as an autobiography would tell. It may not be based on factual event as much as the person wanting their audience to understand ‘their side of the story’, or their perception of how they were affected by events. Because of this, there is also a more anecdotal, or story-like tone to the writing. It may also be that the person’s account is of a particular noteworthy or famous historical event that is based on their personal knowledge or experience, such as a soldier’s memoir about surviving World War II in a prisoner of war camp.

So when trying to decide whether a story about someone’s life is a biography or a memoir, keep in mind who wrote the story, what does the story tell, how it is written, and what the meaning or purpose the author had in mind when writing the story.


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