SA Writes: Memoir Writing Workshop

I am following up on the discussion of my previous post entitled “Memoir versus Fiction”. Many of you gave me great advice or sources where I could continue my research. Sheri Mathews at: suggested I read Mary Karr’s book “The Art of the Memoir” I completed the book several weeks ago and I want to share some important parts that helped me.

In chapter 2 – The Truth Contract Twixt Writer and Reader, she states, “…So here I stand with my little stick, attempting to draw a line in the dirt for the sake of memoir’s authenticity. Truth may have become a foggy, fuzzy neither area. But untruth is simple: making up events with the intention to deceive…You know the difference between a vague memory and a clear one, and the vague ones either get left out or labeled dubious. It’s the clear ones that matter most anyway, because they’re the ones you’ve nursed and worried over and talked through and wondered about your whole life. And you’re seeking the truth of memory—your memory and character—not of unbiased history.”

Book cover image supplied by Amazon

Mary Karr’s chapter goes on extensively to give examples where writers of memoirs have skirted that vague line of truth as they knew it or the untruth as used to enhance their story. I will leave it up to you whether you want to wade through her examples of the honorable or those she questions their credibility. After more than ten pages, my head began to swim. What I did learn from this chapter, if knowingly you embellish the detail to enhance your story, then you have crossed the line.

Mary summarizes; “For the record, here are the liberties I’ve used, which all seem fairly common now:

  1. Re-creating dialogue
  2. Changing the names to protect the innocent
  3. Altering the name of the town
  4. Blurring details of somebody’s appearance for the sake of privacy.
  5. Moving back and forth through time when appropriate and giving info you didn’t have at the time, which breaks point of view
  6. Telescoping Time
  7. Shaping a narrative
  8. Stopping to describe something in the midst of a heated scene
  9. Temporarily changing something to protect a friend’s request
  10. Recounting old fantasies
  11. Putting in scenes I didn’t witness but only heard about—
  12. Vis-à-vis interpretation”

I don’t want to minimize the advice Mary Karr offers in her book. For anyone intending or in the process of writing a memoir, I strongly recommend reading her book. She covers a full range of subject. I just pulled one small area that applied to my concerns.

With the original post, I referenced an article I found by the staff of Writer’s Relief. They gave two examples and solution to remedy the examples. I followed their recommendations. I did some further research where I looked at several memoirs and fiction based on the author’s life. I saw where the recommendations were used and some of the authors would have benefited if they followed the advice.

To end the suspense, (drum roll please), will my second book entitled What Did I Do? be a memoir or fiction? The following is the way I intend on conquering the decision.

Breaking Silence Teleconference – Writing the Truth Memoir

Author’s Note

“When I wrote this manuscript, my intent was to share a portion of my life story. I envisioned a memoir. A memoir by definition needs to be truthful. The story begins at early childhood, more than 60 years ago. Often my memory was fragmented or hazy. Attempting to recall descriptions and conversations from that period of my life unerringly was an impossible task. What I present is my story as best my memory could recall. The substance of conversations and events have been captured, yet are not intended to be literal.

I also chose to change individual names, some locations, and certain identifying details to protect the anonymity of the people depicted. Whether the experts would accept my presentation as a memoir, might be disputed. Yet, this story is mine as best to my recollection. The importance is that the reader becomes aware of the essence of my story.”

As of this moment, my manuscript is in the hands of my editor Derrick Miller and the above might change. As you did with the first post, I welcome your comments and suggestions. This has been a challenging decision and I feel the substance of the book is far more relevant than if I captured the detail without the use of embellishments.

Watch for more news and the release date of What Did I Do? a memoir by Chuck Jackson.





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