In the first part of this 2 part series (Memoir OR Ficton based in Real Life), fiction writers (and others) question the memoir genre.
How do memoir writers answer these questions?
I did some more research on the internet to see how memoir writers and teachers handle the inevitable question of truth vs. fiction in their writing and teaching.
I, once again, found Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D. She is both a teacher and a memoir writer. In her article titled, “TRUTH OR LIE: Fiction vs. Memoir—How Memoir Writers Can Approach Truth and Healing” she acknowledges that would-be memoir writers in her classes are very worried about ethical issues and being accurate. They question their ability to remember exact conversations or minute details such as clothing they were wearing at the time.
What I got from her answer was if a detail can be researched, do it. Whether through others that were there at the time, world events or even old train schedules — verify any facts that you can and tell it like it was.
In Tristine Rainer’s book, Your Life as Story, she points out that today’s readers want memoirs to have the same qualities as fiction books — story arc, dialog, obstacles, resolutions, etc… A first draft, as Anne Lamott says, is usually sh*tty, but can be healing. From the first draft you hone in on the story that needs to be told.
Details like the color of the dress you wore at your high school graduation may not be important to the overall story. If it is, by all means, keep it in. If not, cut it. If you try to convince your readers that President Kennedy was assassinated in December because it works better in your story — you will lose credibility.
That is not to say that you have to include every little thing that was going on in the world, your city or your diner scene in your writing. Think about it. At cocktail parties and get togethers, people are constantly telling stories. Some have a gift for it. They only relate what it important to the story, moral or resolution. They leave out all the unnecessary details. Does it make the story any less true that they failed to mention the gum chewing waitress’ name was Marge?
However, adding things that never happened is stepping over the line from non-fiction into fiction. As Linda Joy Myers says in her article:
“If we change the plot of our lives because another plot would be more interesting to the publisher, we are in the realm of fiction. If we say we had relationships we didn’t have because it would make a better story, we need to call it fiction.”
The one thing that no one can fault and that plays a large part in memoir writing is emotion. No one can tell you how you felt or should have felt. Those feelings and memories of feelings are yours alone and cannot be verified by others.
Personally, I love the memoir genre and love to read about others’ lives. As long as they don’t try to change history and tell me a true story, I don’t mind the author fabricating some dialog because they can’t remember, word for word, exactly what was said years ago.
What do you think?
credit: by DecoratingforEvents