Monday, January 20, 2014

More on Memoir, Memory and Truth

My students sometimes relate that their sister/brother insists that a certain event about which they are writing happened much differently or never occurred at all.

Memory isn't false.  You could say it is unreliable in its inclination to make a totally accurate story of our past.  The whole idea is to make sense of what's happened to us.  These memories reflect our purpose and identity; we reflect on how we see ourselves.

The way we tell our story is the way we begin to live our lives.  What we remember is a reconstruction of image and feeling that suits our needs and purposes.  This is an attempt by the author to narrate memories with the greatest emotional truth.  It's your memory of the event from your perspective.  Each family member may tell the story of an event differently because of their particular point of view, but that doesn't mean that your account is untrue.

This is your life you are writing about--your ambitions, successes and perhaps, even your failures,  Your memories are filled with folks who have adorned, scarred and skewed the plot of your life.  Put them in your stories before time robs you of your impressions.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Is Memory Reliable?

Some students of mine are worried about the truthfulness of their memory.  

The purpose of memoir is to capture essence rather than factual details.  As a memoirist, your job is to relate your memory as sincerely as possible.  You assure the reader that you've done a sufficient amount of reflection so that what you write is your best understanding of what originally happened.  You cannot expect to remember every single detail accurately.  But the reader has the right to expect that what you claim to be true will be accurate to the best of your recollection.  Memoir is about honesty, not about how you appear to others.  If you write about emotional truth, your writing will appear authentic, which is more important than making you look good.

One of the steps to writing the successful memoir is to mine the emotional truth.   We experience our past through feelings and senses.  No one can disagree with them.   Memoir deals with our personal experience as well as our attitudes and our cherished feelings.  In other words, capture the emotional essence of your remembrance.  Why is what we feel less true than what is?

I have paraphrased the above from Unreliable Truth by Maureen Murdock.  A book I highly recommend for memoirists.  

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Do Not Get Over It

I like to think of myself as a seasoned short story writer.

I can't, however, forget a character who's been part of my psyche for a couple decades.  He's the protagonist of a short story I never finished.

Now I have revisited him and realize that a short story will not reign him in.   So, I am 70 pages into a novel or novella.

Much fiction depends on people and writers who never forget.  Sometimes, this clinging, this refusal to "get over it," is very useful in fiction and in real life.  Just think of The Great Gatsby:
"You can't repeat the past."
"Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously.  "Why of course you can!" 
Readers want intimacy with the character.  To make this happen, I need to remember his past as well as mine, even though they are very different.  In this novel, our psyches meet.

I'll keep you posted on my progress.  Wish me luck.

Progress On My Second Novel

The main problem in my second novel is drawing out the female protagonist. She is 21, admitted to a psych ward of a hospital after a suicide...