graphic memoir

Graphic Memoir: 6 Tips for Writing a Great Memoir

Salmaan Ahmad

Salmaan Ahmad

January 3, 2024

A graphic memoir is a book about a person, their life, and the lessons learned in life. They are often popular because these books allow readers to learn from another person’s life experiences. Readers love to see the world through someone else’s eyes, picking up pieces of advice, universal truths, or bits of wisdom the author learned along the way. Memoirs allow writers to present their own stories and life lessons to the reader, but a graphic memoir offers an even more impactful format option for writers with a personal story.

What Is a Graphic Memoir?

While a memoir is simply a story or grouping of anecdotes recalled by an author about their own life, a graphic memoir allows authors to bring their stories to life with a visual representation. Graphic memoirs can be crafted in any visual style from cartoon and realistic to minimalistic modern. The process of graphic memoir writing, however, is a little different than simply writing a narrative-style book since the visual elements play a large role in how the reader experiences the book.

Graphic Memoir Writing

Crafting a compelling graphic memoir begins with an organized plan to collect, express and refine interesting anecdotes that can be visually represented in the book. The extra element of visual storytelling in this style of memoir allows writers to communicate their content through well-thought-out visuals that can add nuance to a writer’s personal story, setting it apart from other traditionally written memoirs.

1. Collect Content for a Graphic Memoir

Like many nonfiction books, the first writing phase is coming up with the content you want to use. And since a memoir’s purpose is to reflect on the life and lessons of the author, recalling memories is the starting point for content collection.

Brainstorming: The idea of brainstorming is to think about and record as much information as possible. Writers use all methods of mind maps to create and recall concepts, but one of the proven styles of brainstorming is called webbing or mapping. Beginning with a blank page, place the basic event or incident in the center, and begin to fill in any and every detail about the event around the center point. As connected ideas are recorded, webbing “links” can be drawn between the concepts to help define, clarify, and demonstrate relationships.

Another way to brainstorm ideas to use in a memoir is to begin listing out events chronologically within a given time frame. Without editing the initial list, pouring out all events or ideas in short bursts can help writers develop a large volume of content to work with later on. Setting a timer and keeping the metaphorical “pen to paper” is another version of brainstorming that can allow stream-of-consciousness writing to bring ideas to the surface. But thorough content gathering is important in a memoir because the book’s contents are, at heart, a personal recollection of events and their effects on the writer and the world.

Look for Connections: Once your concepts have been collected, search for connections between the events and ways to tie the life lessons or experiences together. Graphic memoirs will not only tell the author’s story but also show it, so defining what you want the reader to learn or see in the stories will help you create a captivating book that will draw in your readers.

2. Create Order for Your Graphic Memoir

Take the anecdotes and events you plan to include in your memoir and toy with the order they will appear in the book. Many writers will work chronologically, starting with events that took place first and ending with the most current anecdotal stories. This structure works well when the stories, lessons, or experiences build on one another, and the most recent inclusion demonstrates the pinnacle of wisdom, humor, or another element in the book.

But for some memoirs, structuring the book’s contents in an event-focused way allows the writer to introduce the most important events or stories right away, and then use flashbacks or chronological storytelling to fill in the missing information for the reader. In some memoirs, the first chapter “gives away” the big ending or lesson of the book, while other authors let the tension and drama build up, leaving the final wisdom for the last pages.

The order you choose should reflect not only the stories you are including, but also what you want the reader’s experience to be as they read and reflect on the retelling of stories about your life.

3. Write the Details for Your Graphic Memoir

After gathering and organizing the content, it’s time to do the actual writing. Flesh out the stories, adding details and explanations to create a complete picture of the event. Be sure to include engaging dialog so the reader will feel like they are witnessing the event authentically. In situations where you don’t remember exactly what was said, paraphrase the content, mixing both types of recollections within a story to engage the reader and bring authenticity to your book.

Once the stories and retelling of the meaningful and impactful events have been completed, begin working on creating connections for the readers. Look for lessons that your life experiences taught you and express how what you have learned has changed your life or your outlook. Insight into how your unique life events will be the connective tissue of your book, but always keep in mind how the visual elements could be used to present the content to your readers.

4. Storyboard for Your Graphic Memoir

In the same way that graphic novels and comics are prepared, graphic novel writing includes storyboarding. Taking the content created for the book, each scene needs to be visually blocked out on a storyboard template. This process allows writers to place content on each page, planning out where the emphasis for visuals, text and dialogue will be located.

In the graphic style of storytelling, authors can use dialogue bubbles, thought bubbles, and text blocks along with graphics to present the book content to the reader. As you plot out the pacing of the story on the storyboard, remember that each page of the graphic memoir should include a variety of content styles and not be heavy on text-only storyboard panels.

5. Decide on Graphic Style

Every graphic novel or memoir presents the story with a specific style that the author chooses to represent some element of the story, the style of writing, or even as a cultural reference. Do you want your memoir to have a cartoonish appearance, or would a more realistic appearance better match the feel of your concept?

Some memoirs may present well with a sketch style of graphics while others may match up with a high or low saturated color effect. Choose the style for your book by viewing other graphic novels and memoirs, holding a few titles as examples of a similar style you want your book to emulate.

6. Contract Experts

Very few writers are experts in every task needed to produce a quality book, even if they self-publish their work. So once your book has been storyboarded and your graphic style has been selected, partner with experts to help you finish your book.

  • Graphic Artist: Contracting a graphic artist who is capable of bringing your storyboards to life can help ensure that your memoir looks and feels exactly how you imagined it would. Working with an expert who has experience handcrafting or digitally creating a graphic book will help you quickly transform your storyboards into a beautiful visual memoir.
  • Editor: Every book, regardless of the style, needs a talented editor to make sure that no mistakes make it through to the final manuscript. Engage the services of a qualified editor who can correct grammatical and spelling and continuity mistakes. Content editors can also help you determine if parts of your memoir need to be changed so the story will flow more effectively, providing a better reading experience.
  • Cover Designer: Consider contracting your graphic artist or a professional cover design expert to create a book cover that attracts the right reader, fits with your genre, and reflects the themes and motifs that your memoir presents to the reader. Someone with experience developing book covers can help you create a cover that will include everything you need to make sure your book looks great on the shelf, fits in with genre expectations, and will help your book look professionally printed.

Print Your Graphic Memoir Book

Graphic memoir writing concludes with partnering with a quality printer that can turn your final manuscript into a gorgeous book, ready to put into the hands of your readers. With years of experience working with self-publishing authors, Publishing Xpress can transform your work into a book that readers will love and you can be proud of for years to come.

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