The purpose of memoir is to capture the essence of the narrator rather than factual life details.
Memory is a very personal and changeable thing. The actual year or season or time of day shifts to a different one. Many details are lost. The writer may need to consciously adjust minor details in the interest of clarity. Sometimes events need to be reordered to make the narrative work.
It's often necessary to approximate dialogue. No one can recall word for word what happened decades ago.
Leave out whatever makes the story too complicated for a reader to grasp. But feel honor bound to capture the essence of the interaction in the events in the dialogue. Memoir is, after all, supposed to be a true story (one that represents as closely as possible the experience); you have an obligation to the reader to make it that.
We have to make peace with the possibility that there is no more absolute truth in memoir than there is in life. The task is to decide where, in each story, the integrity--the honest heart of the story--rests, while at the same time giving due respect to the events as they are remembered.
The truth, however we define it, is often hard to tell. First there's the pain we can cause ourselves in the very act of of getting close enough to the truth to write it down. Then there is the fear of self-disclosure that might cause embarrassment, social ostracism or loss of family and friends. We know in advance about the raised eyebrows, the turned backs, the gossip.
Telling your truths--the difficult and joyful ones--is a big part of what makes for good writing. It's also what brings you peace in the process of of writing. You want to see your writing grow, to find your daily work absorbing, to discover how you improve. None of this will happen if you shy away from the truth. The rewards you seek are the rewards that go with courage; you take the risk and you feel the satisfaction of becoming a better writer.
That doesn't mean your memoir needs to be a tell-all confessional or a desire for revenge. It's that unique blend of truth and art that can touch a reader's heart.
Much of this information comes from Writing the Memoir by Judith Barrington.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
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