Some of you may or may not know I am in the process of writing my second book. I have a draft manuscript completed and I am going through the difficult task of editing my work. I realize I should follow the experts’ advice and have a professional do a copy-edit. I would, if I can find someone in an affordable price range. However, that is not what this post is about.
I am struggling with the issue to whether publish this book as a memoir or a fiction based on my life events. I am not sure if either genre has more impact over the other in the book market. I know both have their advantages and disadvantages. Perhaps if I lay out some detail of my dilemma, you will help me in the decision process.
By definition, a memoir needs to be truthful. Yet, we know many authors of memoirs embellish the story to make it more impactful and captivating to the reader. So, to what degree can the author embellish and meet the definition of a memoir?
I found a blog by Kari Morgan who writes for the Freelance Writing website. She wrote, “…While both fiction and memoirs tell compelling stories, they are ultimately two different genres of writing. A memoir tells a true story about a specific time in an author’s life, such as childhood, a period of illness, or a relationship with a family member. By contrast, the author invents fictional stories for the purpose of entertainment. Memoirs and fiction differ in their use of facts, their protagonists and their sources of description and detail.”
Kari continues, “…The biggest difference between memoirs and fiction is the role real events play in their development. In a memoir, writers have an obligation to deliver a true and accurate depiction of their experiences. …while writing about memory can be hazy territory, memoir writers should make every effort to be honest and authentic. However, because fiction is largely invented by its authors, they have more leeway with accuracy. For example, although Harper Lee shares the same background and basic experiences as Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the novel’s events are heavily fictionalized.”
The writing of my second book begins over 60 years ago when I was a child. I had trouble remembering all the detail, so, I told the story as accurately as I could remember. Any embellishment was when I included dialogue to make the event realistic and compelling to the reader.
I found a similar article from a post written by the staff of Writer’s Relief. What I like about it, it gave me some examples.
“…SITUATION ONE. The author has written a book based on his life. The story is faithful to his experiences in the way that all creative nonfiction tries to recreate stories from memories as accurately as possible. The author has changed the characters’ names to protect identities, but otherwise everything is true…”
“The problem: The author values his life experience and wants to pitch his book as a memoir. But the names have been changed, so in that way, it’s not entirely truthful.
Solution: In your query letter, explain the situation clearly: My book is an accurate memoir of my life story, though I have changed some names…”
“…SITUATION TWO. An author has written a book based loosely on her life. The story is very familiar to her because she has lived much of it. She has changed characters’ names. She has also taken liberties here and there in order to make the story more compelling, and she amped up her ending to be a little flashier.
The problem: The writer knows that small parts of her tale are fictionalized (perhaps she added a pet dog, a villain, or a love interest), but the larger story is mostly true. Because her real-life experience is so out of the ordinary, she feels it’s important that readers understand that the things she’s writing about actually happened to her (for the most part). Is this a memoir or a novel? Fiction or nonfiction?
Solution: In this case, we feel the author would be best served by calling her story a novel. Memoir promises truth, and so if the book is not as truthful as the author can possibly make it, then it is not a memoir. In her professional writer’s biography, the author might note that her own story is similar to the story of the novel—though not exactly the same…”
I honestly feel that my writing as it stands now is somewhere between the two examples above. Perhaps if you read an excerpt from the manuscript it might help. In one of my earlier blogs entitled “A Story of Developing Self Confidence” (the title has a link to the post), I tell of about the summer I turned 12. With the blog, I added text to introduce the piece. At the end, I wrote a conclusion, which expounds on the message I wanted to share.
In the manuscript of the same incident, I added dialogue to capture the readers’ interest and make it read more realistic. The overall story did not change, however, in both writings, I state it was a rainy day and we couldn’t work in the fields. To be honest, I do not remember why we weren’t working that day. I’m not sure all of us boys were up in the hayloft when I fell through the loft opening. But, does that detail really matter in capturing the story and expounding the message? Does this type of accuracy determine whether it’s a memoir or fiction?
The total manuscript has incidents similar to the one you just read. Sometimes I embellished more with dialogue, descriptive locations, or the time to gain the same effect to illustrate my point. If the book only included the chapters recounting those life stories, I would be satisfied with it being fiction. I would add a declaration stating it’s based on my life experiences.
However, I wrote a conclusion section to explain how I viewed and resolved these incidents 50 to 60 years later. With including this type of conclusion, it would negate its purpose if the genre were fiction. To be of value, I feel it needs to be a memoir.
Here is an excerpt from the conclusion: “…The obvious was Dad had an anger problem and was unable or unwilling to do anything about it. The anger was a character flaw and was the underlying reason he had problems with self-confidence. He compensated his lack of confidence with being a perfectionist and an overachiever. That perfectionist carried over in him demanding that I meet the same standards. When I didn’t, the results were harsh discipline.”
So, my friends and followers, in your opinion should the book be a memoir or a fiction? One day, I go with fiction. The next day, to be impactful it needs to be a memoir.
So if you were in my shoes, what would you do? Please leave me your comments telling me your answer to my dilemma. Tell me why you would recommend one over the other. I do value your opinion. Thank you.