Updated: Apr 7, 2020
Do you have a story to tell but are not sure whether to call it a novel or a memoir? Struggling with what to call your story is a common struggle many authors face when writing about true stories of their lives. Sometimes, the struggle stems from a desire to tell the story while embellishing some parts of the truth. Oftentimes, it stems from a desire to protect certain characters in the story. At other
times, it stems from a desire to tell the story from a single perspective which is usually the author's perspective. However, if you at any point, in the process of telling your story, question whether or not you want readers to know the truth and nothing but the truth, you might want to consider writing a novel instead of a memoir. And keep in mind that the novel can still be written from a first-person account. Here are a few tips on how to tell the difference between a novel and a memoir:
A memoir by definition is a collection of memories written by an individual. These memories are about moments or events, both public or private, that took place in the subject's life, the assertions of which are understood to be factual. A novel, on the other hand, is, according to Webster's Dictionary, "an invented prose narrative that is usually long and complex and deals especially with human experience through a usually connected sequence of events." Note the word "invented" and you have the difference between a memoir and a novel. If any part of your memoir is "invented," you might want to consider either letting your readers know this in your disclaimer, or consider writing a novel (first-person account or third is fine).
All in all, the ideal way to write a memoir is to give your readers "the truth" either by letting them know that you have fictionalized the truth or by telling all of the truth with changed names and places to protect your characters. And remember, disclaimers will protect you every time, so use them.