Critiquing Memoir Print
Writing Workshops


Critiquing Memoir

First, read the draft straight through. Read to enjoy the story and to get a sense of the personal significance of the work. Tell the writer what you learned about him or her from the draft. What tone to do you hear? What does the story tell you about the writer? How would you summarize the significance of this piece?

Here are 3 questions about people in memoir writing:

l. Strong descriptive writing about a person must be specific and detailed. Note any places where you would like more detail. Point out any descriptions that are particularly effective as well as any that seem to contradict the overall impression the rest of the work gives about the people involved.

2. Writers often inform readers about a person's character and conduct by making general statements. Look for vague or unnecessary statements as well as for those that need illustration. Point out any particularly revealing statements, ones that help you understand the person's character or significance. Indicate any statements that seem to be contradicted by the overall impression created by the anecdotes and dialogues. Does the writer rely too much on telling through general statements rather than on showing through anecdotes, dialogue, and description of the people? Make suggestions.

3. Review the dialogues. Point out any particularly effective dialogue, for instance, any that helps you to understand the people and to get a feeling for their importance to the writer. Indicate also those you find inferior, ones that sound artificial or stilted, that move too slowly, or that seem undramatic.

Here are 5 questions about using narrative in memoir writing:

4. Consider the completeness of the piece. Point out any places where you have questions about what happened, where you need or would like more information, where you see gaps in the story. Also point to places where you are given more details than you need.

5. Evaluate the over-all pace. Identify the places where you felt the tension build and where it slackened. Offer suggestions.

6. Say whether you want to know more about the scene and the people or whether you want less because some of the detail seems unnecessary. Point out any especially memorable scenes.

7. Look at what the writer says about the experience. Which of these points could be made by showing instead of telling? Does the reflection (commentary) seem tacked on, like the moral of a fairy tale? Let the writer know if there is any place where you would like more reflection on the significance of the story.

8. Look again at the beginning. Now that you have thought some about the whole, is the beginning effective? Did it grab your interest and set up the right expectations? Suggest an alternative.