Memoir: Truth or Fiction? [Guest Post]
This is a guest post by Tracy Wilson. Tracy and I have been friends for several years (she’s one of Kitty’s godmothers, too) and I asked her to write a post for Aliventures about memoir … something that I don’t have any experience with, but that I know a number of Aliventures readers are interested in.
Over to you, Tracy!
When people ask me what I’m working on at the moment, I tell them – a memoir. This generally elicits one of two responses. The first is along the lines ‘well done, I look forward to reading it.’ The second, more self-conscious response is ‘Ooh, I don’t think I could do that: I don’t want everyone knowing my business.’
Don’t get me wrong, writing a memoir is not everyone’s cup of tea. Some people genuinely are very private. For a writer, though, it can be a valuable and rewarding experience. You can sharpen your skills of creativity, research, memory, prose writing, and – believe or not – fiction writing.
That is my key message to you today: good memoir is as much about fiction as it is about fact. Memoir writers are not doggedly chained to the wall of fact after fact. Any memoir worth reading has enhancements, additions and fictionalisations to pep it up, bring continuity and overall make it an interesting read.
“But what about the truth?” you may cry. Well, here it is: the facts do not equal the truth. No matter what happens in life, events have a deeper meaning that is not the same as those events might suggest. For example, one Sunday I decided to stay home from church to work on my memoir. This may seem a touch rebellious or possibly self-interested. But, because I see memoir writing as part of my overall spiritual calling, I was still committing an act of service.
So, how can you write an engaging memoir that people will want to read without losing your sense of the truth?
#1: Understand Truth
As I said, facts do not equal truth. When looking back at your experiences or those of others in your life, be mindful of the universal, human themes that are emerging. Don’t be afraid to recognise and honour the deeper connections you have made.
Fiction is never a completely made-up thing. If it was, nobody could relate to it.
Once you have assembled all the information from your life story, start looking for ways to make connections between the pieces. Could you shift emphasis on a passage so it chimes in with your underlying theme? How would you imagine someone else really thought or felt about something that happened or that you had done? Does this episode need enhancing to make it stand out more to the reader? All of these creative techniques are entirely valid ways to make your work more readable and, hopefully, more saleable.
#3: Reflect Real Life
‘Nobody’s perfect’ as everyone knows. Sometimes we can be keen to only show our more positive or desirable traits. A memoir is an opportunity to present yourself in a more rounded way. You can show where you slipped up, got it wrong, said the wrong thing. You can use a memoir to show how you have learned an important lesson in life. Don’t dwell on your faults, but let them be seen for what they are. This is one way memoir can be a therapeutic exercise – things rarely are as bad as they seem.
Note: Writing about other people
You may wonder how to handle being creative when your story includes other people. Basically, if you think they’ll be offended you can either a) conceal their identity (change the name, amend some details) or b) you can take the position that, if their story is so important to them, why don’t they write it! What it boils down to is that you must balance your creative needs with your social needs. If you have the skills in both, no problem, you should find this a relatively easy call to make. If you are weak in either area – creatively or socially – perhaps it’s time to work on your skills. Use this project as leverage towards improvement.
At the end of the day, all memoir should be is a good story well told. It’s your job as the author to tell it in a balanced, sensitive, realistic way. Don’t get too caught up in the fact it’s your life. Instead, use the experience as a means to greater objectivity. Use the experience as a way to let go into life.
I hope you’ll find this article useful. If you want to talk about any of the issues raised, drop me a line: you can find my contact details here.
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
If you're new, welcome! These posts are good ones to start with:
Can You Call Yourself a “Writer” if You’re Not Currently Writing?
The Three Stages of Editing (and Nine Handy Do-it-Yourself Tips)
My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.
You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.
I’ve always thought memoir was a strange sounding word. So, never thought or tried to know what a memoir was. I’ve also not yet tried writing fiction, though History and English were two of my interesting subjects in school days.
Maybe I’ll try writing a memoir someday. This is very new to me. Thanks for clarifying and explaining how to write one.
Raspal Seni’s last blog post ..6 Common Blog Header Mistakes You Should Avoid
Wonderful article, Tracy! I loved this, “You can use a memoir to show how you have learned an important lesson in life.” It’s a great way to approach a memoir! I find memoirs to be just like a novel, it has to have a beginning, a middle and end. And the stakes are high; for example, you’re going to lose your family. The stakes have to be high, at least for you. Maybe other people wouldn’t care about losing their family, but the stakes for you are high, and that has to show in the memoir. So that’s the beginning, but it’s a long process.
Enjoyed the post. I’ve been working on a memoir recently mostly just to help me both get through and remember a particularly difficult year. Mostly it’s just for fun (my main focus is writing about taxes…bit different), but after combining it with novel writing, it’s helped me think about new ways to talk about life stories, focusing more on the emotional aspects rather than events.
Tim Gordon’s last blog post ..Deduction of Club Dues