Life is messy. Very messy. Things don’t make sense. Sometimes we can’t figure out why someone does something. As humans, we want reasons for actions. We want order. And we want resolution to life stories.
Enter - the value of truth in memoir or fiction.
Our job as writers of memoir or fiction is to find the orderliness in story; the reasons for actions; and of course, the resolutions found at the end of the tale we tell. Make no mistake. This is difficult work. Especially for memoir.
Memoir needs to be true. Absolutely. No question there. If you change the setting [where things happen], you are writing fiction. If you change the timeline of events [what happened first, etc.], you are writing fiction. Dialogue needs to be something that the real person would normally say. Don’t worry about exactly what the person said on October 15, 2004. You will drive yourself crazy.
Memoir is your truth, your belief of what really happened in a scene. I’ve read that it is okay change people’s names, but you need to place a disclaimer in the front matter of the book to say the names have been changed. Has anyone received different advice on using real names of NON-famous people? Please share what you know here at Adventures in Writing.
Fiction, on the other hand, can be based on a true incident or real facts and real people, but the writer doesn’t need to stick to the facts as she would in memoir. Think of historical fiction here or real murders or kidnappings. Many great story ideas come from factual events. A writer begins with fact and then fictionalizes what happens, what the characters think, why they behave the way they do. Sometimes I get tied up in the facts; like the fact that a rip current has never happened in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, that I know of, yet that’s where I placed my most recent story sold to Cricket Magazine where a rip current was the major action in the story.
But if we get back to that “messy life” and truth that I started the post with, the biggest job of the writer is to write a story that seems truer than life, whether it’s memoir or fiction. People read to discover the reasons for actions. And except for some literary stories, readers want closure at the end of the tale. They want resolution because life doesn’t always offer that resolution.
This is extremely difficult in memoir because, like me, you may not exactly know the reasons—and feelings—for every event you include in the memoir. How many times can I say I felt insecure; felt like an imposter or worried that I’d fail and that would be the end of my college career. Too many, according to my editor. And I agree with her. Of course, that leaves me staring at the computer screen and the scene I’m working on to discover “what else” Victoria could have been feeling at the time. It’s about going deeper into the emotion of the scene and not just relying on the surface emotion – insecure, imposter, worry. This is what writers need to do in memoir as well as fiction.
I hope you’ve found some insight in what I’ve written. Please offer insight of your own. It would be truly appreciated. Please ask any questions about my college memoir in the comments section of Adventures in Writing. Thanks so much!
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