How to Incorporate Elements of Fiction into Your Memoir

memoirs writing tips Nov 15, 2023
Applying fictional elements in memoirs

The first time I wrote a memoir, my editor suggested I add more elements of fiction to it. While I had done a good job capturing the facts, it lacked vivid descriptions to draw readers into each scene, and it needed high-stakes conflict to propel the story forward.

Incorporating literary techniques into personal narrative revolutionized the way I approach my memoir writing. In this article, I’ll review eight essential elements of fiction, and then show you how to apply them to your memoir writing.

8 Key Elements of Fiction

The elements of fiction are the essential components that make up a narrative work of literature. Think of elements of fiction as building blocks that contribute to the structure, development, and impact of a story. Great works of fiction include these eight narrative elements:

  1. Plot: The sequence of events that make up the story. It typically includes an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.
  2. Characters: The individuals or entities that drive the story. Characters can be protagonists (main characters), antagonists (opposing characters), or supporting characters.
  3. Setting: The time and place in which the story unfolds. Setting creates the backdrop for the narrative and influences the mood and atmosphere.
  4. Conflict: The central struggle or problem that the characters face. Conflict is crucial for driving the plot and creating tension or drama in the story.
  5. Theme: The central idea or message that the author wants to convey through the narrative. Themes are often universal concepts or truths explored in the story.
  6. Point of View (POV): The perspective from which the story is told. It can be first person (narrated by a character in the story), third person limited (narrated from an external perspective with access to one character's thoughts), or omniscient (narrated from an all-knowing perspective).
  7. Tone: The author's attitude or emotional stance toward the subject matter. Tone contributes to the overall atmosphere and mood of the story.
  8. Style: The author's unique way of expressing ideas through language. Style includes choices in diction, syntax, and literary devices that shape the narrative's artistic and aesthetic qualities.

These elements work together to create a cohesive and engaging fictional work, providing a framework for storytelling and allowing readers to connect with the narrative on multiple levels.

Applying Elements of Fiction to Memoir

The truth is, these eight narrative elements aren’t just reserved for fiction writers. They’re age-old components of all great storytelling. When applying the elements of fiction to memoir writing, there's a unique interplay between real-life events and the art of storytelling. Here's how each literary element can be approached in the context of memoir:


In memoir writing, the plot is the chronological sequence of events from the author's life. Focus on selecting and organizing events that contribute to a central theme or narrative arc.

Use the structure of a traditional plot to guide your memoir, incorporating key elements like an introduction, rising tension, a turning point, and resolution.


Characters in a memoir are real people, including you, the author, and those who played significant roles in your life. Develop these characters with depth, portraying their personalities, relationships, and evolution over time.

Be honest and authentic in presenting people, capturing their complexities and nuances. Remember that real people, like fictional characters, undergo growth and change.


The setting in memoirs involves not only physical locations but also the cultural and emotional landscapes of the author's life. Describe the environments that shaped you and affected your journey.

Highlight the time periods, cultural contexts, and places that hold significance in your narrative. Consider how these settings influenced your experiences and personal growth.


In memoirs, conflicts are the challenges, obstacles, or internal struggles faced by the author. Explore moments of tension and growth, and reflect on how these conflicts shaped your character.

Show the emotional and psychological impact of conflicts, emphasizing the lessons learned or personal transformations that resulted.


The theme of a memoir is the overarching message or insight derived from the author's life experiences. Identify the core themes that resonate throughout your narrative.

Reflect on the universal aspects of your story—what readers can relate to or learn from. Themes in memoirs often revolve around resilience, self-discovery, or the human condition.

Point of View (POV)

Memoirs are typically told from the first-person point of view since they recount personal experiences. Use the "I" perspective to provide a direct and intimate connection between you and your reader.

Consider the reliability of your narrator (yourself) and how the story may be perceived through your unique lens.


The tone in memoir writing reflects the author's attitude toward their past experiences. Be mindful of the emotional resonance you want to convey, whether it's humor, introspection, or a combination of various tones.

Maintain a consistent tone that aligns with the emotional and thematic core of your memoir.


Develop a writing style that is both authentic and engaging. Memoir writing often involves a balance between narrative and reflective passages.

Experiment with literary devices, such as flashbacks, foreshadowing, metaphors, imagery, and descriptive language to bring your experiences to life. 

Fact + Fiction

In memoir writing, the challenge lies in maintaining factual accuracy—or at least truth as you remember it—while crafting a story that captivates and resonates with readers on an emotional level. Balancing the truth with storytelling techniques allows for a powerful and meaningful memoir.



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