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Michelle's Musings

Truth in Memoir

Since last month's post, I dug a little deeper into the differences between memoir and autofiction. My main concern was maintaining the truthfulness of memoir in spite of the absence of perfect recall. I was surprised to learn in my writing revision class that changing my characters' names introduces an element of fiction. Yet some reputable memoirists recommend doing so when needed for privacy concerns and protection from liability.


Depending on whom you talk to, you'll get diametrically opposed opinions on just how much liberty, if any, one can take in writing memoir. The concept of fictionalizing an autobiography (autofiction) is an intriguing one, especially in cases where memory recall is difficult. A key benefit with autofiction is the author can describe intimate or deeply personal experiences which might otherwise make them feel shamed by intolerant members of society. Since the emotional impact of a story may be more significant than its factual basis, autofiction appears to serve a purpose here. However, some writing experts believe autofiction should not be a separate genre.


I recently read We are Bridges: A Memoir wherein author, Cassandra Lane, imagined stories about her ancestors that represented her approximation of the environment in which they most likely existed. She was careful to weave into her narrative the fact that her recall was lacking or that certain specifics were unknown to her. Much of what she portrays as an unreliable narrator is speculation. Yet, her book title includes the word "memoir."


When it comes to writing about one's lived experiences, privacy is a priority for those still alive. I plan to stay with my first inclination to change names where necessary, prefaced with a disclaimer somewhere in the introductory pages. I'm not writing a revenge story, therefore, I'm not concerned about others being offended to the extent they'd want to sue me. However, I acknowledge that I have made and will make mistakes with my recall, and I plan to indicate when it might differ from that of others so the reader can trust that I'm delivering an honest product.


As a lifelong student, my perspective is not a rigid, hard-lined synopsis of everything I've digested. In fact, my most important take is that rules are meant to bend. To me, it's a matter of degrees. I'm writing my memoir as an example of journey, growth, and renewal that others may find useful for their lives now and in the future. My perceptions are my truth. If I stay true to myself, my story, and my readers' expectations for a resonating message, then I will be successful.

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