Monday, September 17, 2012

Fact or Fiction?

Photo/ Chris Greene

We all have a story to tell, some piece of our past, some experience that has molded and shaped us. But is it enough for a book? Or does it need some embellishment to really make it readable?

I recently read an article from The Writer magazine in which the author, Art Edwards, poses that question and wonders how far writers should go in manipulating experiences to create an engaging memoir.

We’re certainly familiar with authors who went too far (James Frey) in writing a “memoir” when maybe they would have been better off to have written a fiction piece or a book that was “based on” actual events.

A good story is a good story and people may love the work regardless of its label. But as Edwards points out in his column, “For writers, however, the difference between writing novels and writing a memoir is significant. The more you invent in your work, the less likely you can call it a memoir.”

For most of us the line may be very clear and we’re not tempted to invent entire experiences under the guise of a memoir. But what about adding a line of dialogue or what happens when you remember an incident, but you don’t remember every last detail? Do you make up the color of the walls? Do you insert something you think you said?

As Edwards closes the column, he notes, “It’s up to each writer to decide if her life informs her work, or is contrived for the sake of it.”

How do you handle these situations? Have you written a memoir and dealt with this issue?


  1. I have been writing for many years, mostly fiction, and have often pulled from my personal experiences to make the fiction believable.  Recently, I've started blogging my own "memoir," so-to-speak, and have been startled by the response it is gaining, simply because it's honest.  

    Writers often get hung up on embellishing stories to make them interesting. What we fail to remember is that people can relate to honesty and that experience of connection is far more valuable than a detailed "story." 

  2. Thanks for that comment! Good point that people really do relate to honest stories. Those are the ones they look at and think, "Could have been me." -Holly