In my memoir classes we inevitably come to the subject of truth. Or TRUTH if you will. What is it in a memoir and what is the author’s responsibility?
Writing Tip for Today: As I discuss with the students, memoirs seem to get more attention if there is a truth issue than any other aspect of the story. If you are writing about your life, consider these things:
- The Objective Truth. Who knows, reality may be an illusion. But in memoir, you ought to try to cleave to the recorded truth as much as possible. If you write that you graduated high school at age 10, you can bet someone will check the records. Lying when you don’t have to erodes your credibility as a narrator.
- Your Family’s Truth. All of us shade our experiences with subjective judgments. In Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, he talks in the preface about the dog in the story. His mom insists the dog was ugly, while the author denies this. If you write about that awful 10th birthday party, your family may remember things much differently than you do. Be prepared for this, because your words will be challenged by those whose experience tells a different narrative.
- Your Truth. Saying you wore a red dress to the dance instead of the truth (it was a green dress) is not going to affect the story’s message or its outcome. But if you didn’t go to the dance, that might be a problem. So much of what a memoirist recalls is subjective (was the dress ugly or was it lovely?), and as the writer you are entitled to tell your SUBJECTIVE TRUTH, as long as it doesn’t disturb the integrity of your story. Thus, if you say you went to Woodstock with your boyfriend, when in reality he was your brother, nobody (except maybe your brother) will care. If you never went to Woodstock, there’s a big problem.