Decoding the language of writing can be difficult. As a beginning writer, I remember playing the eeny, meeny, miny, moe game as I tried to decipher which contest was best suited for my work. Was my piece memoir? Essay? Short story?
The lines are blurred, but I have come up with a few definitions which might help you.
FICTION is a made-up story and NONFICTION is a true story.
MEMOIR is a longer work of nonfiction told from the perspective of the author, using the “I” voice. A memoir covers a certain period of time, such as your teenage years, or the empty-nest years. A memoir may also tell the story of an experiece, such as your years as a nurse during the Vietnam War. It is not a BIOGRAPHY, which is a story from birth to present or death.
A shorter work of nonfiction is called a PERSONAL ESSAY, or sometimes it is also called a narrative essay. Personal essays are meant to entertain with narrative arc, plot, characters, and dialogue. Essays written to make an academic point are not personal essays.
CREATIVE NONFICTION is another name given to memoir or personal essay.
If a contest asks for a SHORT STORY, they are referring to a fictional story, not a work of creative nonfiction.
The next time you are attempting to find a home for your written work, double-check to make sure you are submitting to the correct contest. And if you have a question, please e-mail me and I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction. No more eeny, meeny, miny, moe — at least not when submitting your work!