A Memoir or a Novel - How Does One Decide Which Way to Craft a Story Based on Real Life Events?
Recently on a Linked-In
discussion group, someone made this comment:
“I’m strongly biased toward fiction unless you are
trading on celebrity or some highly publicized event. Memoirs put out as
imparting the wisdom of the elders or holding up your past mistakes as object
lessons turn me off. The fact you were a moron yesterday doesn’t make you
a genius today. Journals and memoirs may be great for family but most are less
attractive to a general audience and often convey the message of pleading to be
loved or admired. Make it fiction and you can be more candid and the reader can
decide whether your experience was informative, moving or amusing based on its
disagree with his statement and share the following thoughts:
Memoirs are some
of the most powerful pieces written today, but people are shortsighted. They
don’t always see the value of first-hand accounts in the present. Without
memoirs, we have history written by partial observers who bring their own
worldview into play—maybe at the expense of writing with accuracy the way the
events actually happened. Second-hand accounts are never as factual as
first-hand stories and never as valuable for historical purposes.
Many people love
reading memoirs and will look for them in libraries and bookstores. Life
experiences written by people reveal more about society than any history book
or journalist covering a story. I am thankful for all the memoirs written today
by all sorts of people to give us a peek into the present and the past.
For example, the
world never would have known of Anne Frank if she had not written her diary.
She was an unknown 13-year-old kid before her father published her diary.
If you have a
compelling story to tell, tell it with passion, revealing your innermost
struggles and thoughts. Being “real” with the reader will make your story come
alive. In my memoir Children of Dreams about the international adoption of my daughters, I
was open and vulnerable. That was the right way to tell that story. I could
never have fictionalized it.
I just wrote
another book and this one is fiction, Seventh Dimension - The Door. In contrast with Children
of Dreams, I took certain events from my own life and turned them into
fantasy. I had a story to tell and the only way to tell it was as allegory and
to fictionalize it. The point being, do what the story calls for and write it.
Don’t let naysayers talk you out of writing your story the way you feel it
needs to be told. At the end of the day, you have to live with the result and
be happy with the story and the way you wrote it.
These are some thoughts I would
consider: Who is your target audience?
What is your purpose in writing your story? Can anyone be hurt or impacted
negatively if you write your book as a memoir? If you write your story as a
memoir in hopes of making money, you need to write your book as “creative
nonfiction,” using fictional techniques.
For example, you need a
beginning, a middle, and an end. You need to think in terms of “scenes” and “plot”
and “problems” that need to be solved. The reader needs a takeaway—what can he learn
from your memoir that would be meaningful or cathartic? No one wants to read
someone’s boring biography.
If you decide to write your book as
fiction, you will have more options and won’t run the risk of being sued or
worried about divulging something you might regret later. However, you need the
skills to write fiction. Writing fiction is harder than writing a memoir
because you have to create “story” out of fiction and make the plot enticing to
read. In a future piece, I will suggest some books for writing fiction that I
used in my Masters in Creative Writing that I found helpful.
I have written an award-winning
piece on writing memoir that is posted on my website. Here is the link for
anyone interested. Some might find it helpful. http://lorilynroberts.com/memoir.html
The most important thing as a
writer is to keep writing and to keep learning—whether you write fiction,
nonfiction, or memoir, and enjoy the journey!