What we have been asking as we edit various memoirs lately is: Who? Recently, a number of them contain only one named character, the person whose moniker appears on the title page after the preposition, by. No one else in these books has a name. Instead, they are full of characters like my mother, my father, my sister, my friend, my boss, my son, my therapist, my parole officer, my cleaning lady, my colleague, my grandmother and so on. In one book, there is a whole group of characters referred to as my aunts. Thereafter, John/Jane Memoirist writes blithely about going to visit my aunt or my aunt sending me a letter as if these individual aunts are only a component – an individual cow – of a herd.
It goes without saying that this practice comes across as incredibly ego centric, although we don’t think our memoirists are necessarily aware of their omissions. They are simply writing about the people in their lives and perhaps they think of them as my fill-in-the-blanks.
The real problem with this practice though is that it makes for incredibly boring reading. Names help to define people. Referring to my friend is completely different from referring to Charles Wentworth or Abdullah Ibrahim or Jimmy Bob Jenkins. See how the names change your perception of the anonymous “my friend”? Adding names alone will make your memoir richer. (If you want to protect someone’s identity assign them a fake name.) Your book will be even more enjoyably readable if you also include physical descriptions of my mother, my boss etc. and maybe even some stories about them.
Ultimately, your memoir isn’t just about you; it is also about the people in your life and the more interesting they are as characters, the more interesting you will be too.