Why you need an outline for your memoir - Birthright Books

Why you need an outline for your memoir

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there” – Lewis Carroll

Everything has a structure. Our planet. Different countries. A house. A city. Even your DNA.

When writing your memoir, the first thing your ghost should establish with your assistance is a solid outline.


Let’s face it. When you have a good connection with an experienced listener, you’re going to want to talk. Even the shyest clients open right up with an empathetic ghost listening. But if those heart-to-hearts aren’t leading somewhere specific, you could be facing a long haul of unnecessary work.

Endless writing.
Endless revisions.
Endless deletions.
Endless editing.

Every ghost has had a client who wanted “to let it flow.” Sounds great in theory, but it’s a very sloppy way to deliver a finished manuscript anytime soon. Out of 62 books, we’ve had two clients who were difficult to reign in. They had one idea. Then halfway through the book, they decided to change lanes. Or they became comfortable enough to deliver some pretty big reveals we needed to know at the beginning.

You might think that outline means to include all the details of your life from start to finish. That would be an autobiography, while a memoir can be any slice of your life. Regardless of which type of book your ghost is writing for you, there must be structure and it must have some entertainment value.

Does that surprise you?

Consider the outline (autobiography or memoir) to be the DNA of your story. To make it entertaining, let’s look at a typical entertainment outline. It may sound counterintuitive to follow a “Hollywood” example. However, as consumers of knowledge and experience, we are subconsciously conditioned to expect the following outline from books, TV series and movies:

Three Acts
Five Turning Points
Six Stages

Your ghost should know this, and draw your story out according to this structure. The acts, turning points and stages should become your table of contents.

Let’s take Imaginary Client, Liz, and prepare a typical entertainment outline for her memoir. Liz wants her ghost to write out Liz’s childhood to the age of 18.
Stage One: family is intact

Act One: Dad dies.

Chapter One: Age five. Dad dies, Mom inherits a huge life insurance policy (turning point)
Chapter Two: Living circumstances begin to change dramatically. Life becomes upscale.

Stage Two: massive change is life circumstances

Chapter Three: Moving to a mansion (turning point). Owning horses. Lessons: music, riding, tutoring.

Act Two: Mom remarries.

Stage Three: new family members

Chapter Four: Age seven. Mom remarries (turning point). New stepfather. New siblings.

Chapter Five: Adjustments. Struggles with how to allocate money.

Stage Four: Drama (this is the high point of the story)

Chapter Six: Stepfather and new family is… not so good.

Stage Five and Act Three: Mom loses all the money.

Chapter Seven: Through nefarious means, new family jilts mom out of money (turning point).
Chapter Eight: Divorce. Moving from mansion. No more lessons (turning point).

Stage Six: Mom and Liz learn how to survive.

Chapter Nine: Life goes on. Mom and Liz survive.

Chapter Ten: Liz earns a scholarship and prepares to go to college.

Epilogue: Tie all the loose ends together.

You must plan how your book is going to sell even before it’s written and this comes down to the outline, the most important part of the book.

Have questions about how to structure your memoir? Contact us!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *