Memoirs, Autobiography and Biography Formats

Our Top Ten List

So many little time! That phrase describes many situations and biography and memoir formats are no exception. You certainly are not limited to traditional books; choices are as varied as our Cincinnati weather.

Here is our "top ten list" of methods for saving autobiographies, life stories and memoirs, and some thoughts on the pros and cons of each:

  1. Memory book or scrapbook
  2. "Q&A" book (retail, on-line or self-made)
  3. Journal/story collection (on-line or self-made)
  4. Cookbook
  5. Narrative memoir
  6. Narrated slide show
  7. Audio biography or memoir
  8. Video biography or memoir
  9. Website or blog
  10. Collage or quilt

Biography FormatsMemory books, or scrapbooks combine original photos and memorabilia in a one-of-a-kind book. With the addition of journaling, letters and/or transcription, they are are a great repository for life stories. (Without adding stories, they are merely photo albums!) Memory books are long-lasting, safe storage for original documents, and are quite beautiful. They can be quite expensive as well, and are difficult to duplicate.

Q&A (Question and Answer) books are widely available in a variety of forms. You can buy then in bookstores, fill them out on-line with some internet publishing services, or create your own as a transcription of oral interviews. The retail versions are quite inexpensive, but often don't contain the right mix of questions for your life story. On-line versions eliminate questions that don't apply to you, but still rely on a pre-existing bank of questions. Transcriptions of interviews contain questions and answers specific to your story-teller. These products are typically the least expensive of all options, but are somewhat tedious to read. Making copies to share is simple, unless you are using a retail book.

Journal and story collections may be as simple as a school notebook filled with stories or as complex as a website devoted to collecting stories from hundreds of contributors. They certainly preserve the "voice" of the story-tellers-it's their original words, after all. The downsides include a lack of story organization or structure, awkward editing, and difficulty incorporating other media.

Cookbooks can be a highly effective form of memoir-recipes, photos, stories, coming together to tell about a life. Given the importance of food in most cultures and celebrations, it is a natural theme for many people and families. Like Q&A books and Journal/Story collections, the way you share can vary widely, from photocopies to professionally designed and printed books.

Narrative memoir and biography formats combine interviews, photos and memorabilia in a well-developed story line. They read like novels, and include narrative elements of characters, plot, setting, and a character arc. They can be very entertaining, but require significant writing skill. Because of the labor and skill involved, a narrative memoir is perhaps the most expensive of all formats. Options for printing and binding run the gamut from copies at an office supply store to books printed at a publishing house.

biography formatsNarrated slide shows are great for a specific event, such as a wedding, graduation or anniversary. They tell a story of limited scope, in situations where a good photo selection is available. This is also a great way to at least capture the sound of voices and laughter with camera-shy storytellers. Copies are easy to produce on CD or DVD.

Also great for the camera-shy, audio life stories can be saved and shared as a set of mp3 files or CDs. Such memoirs are easy to collect, edit and duplicate. By definition, they do not preserve visual elements such as photographs, but are good options when budget limitations are significant.

Video biography formats combine interviews with audio and visual components into a unique movie experience. They capture the appearance, mannerisms and expressions of the story-teller as no other media can. Due to the equipment and labor-intensive editing, such videos can be pricey. They are great as a "highlight" experience, to keep the movie length at a reasonable viewing time.

Websites and blogs are emerging personal history and biography formats. They work with all media, but with limited quality, due to storage and download limitations. Technology is changing rapidly, so limitations will diminish over time.

On the other end of the spectrum, artistic media such as wall collages and fabric quilts offer low-tech but "high-touch" life stories. While purely a visual medium, such one-of-a-kind art forms are beautiful and lasting ways to encapsulate a person's life journey.

How's that to start...ten unique memoir and biography formats! No single one is best--you must simply weigh what you are working with in terms of materials, time, and skill, as well as how the method fits with the story you want to tell.

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