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IrishScribbler
03-26-2007, 07:50 PM
...to be considered memoir?

I've seen books labeled memoir that are memoirs, except for the minor detail of the subject of the memoir being...yanno...fictional. And there are no repercussions.

Then, someone like James Frey writes a memoir, and when it comes out he wasn't entirely truthful, the literary world is in an uproar.

Where is the line? What is memoir?

Rich
03-26-2007, 08:00 PM
True. Had Oprah not taken it up the book would've probably sold reasonably well, and nobody would've thought to investigate the facts.

IrishScribbler
03-26-2007, 09:32 PM
True. Had Oprah not taken it up the book would've probably sold reasonably well, and nobody would've thought to investigate the facts.

Exactly. I think that's my biggest problem with all that happened. His fame is the only thing that got him in trouble.

I hate to dredge up this whole debacle again, but it really bugs me that readers get so worked up when they find out a story isn't completely true. That's the nature of storytelling. Funny, no one's in an uproar when Hollywood changes the story to fit the audience's desires. Why is the written word held to such a higher standard?

Ragh!

Okay....I think I've finished my rant for now.

johnrobison
03-27-2007, 12:33 AM
I think it's important that the essential elements of a memoir be true. And I would go even farther. With all the controversy in recent years, I think it's best if your memoir is verifiable in terms of key events.

In my first book, there is a "guide for further study" at the end, where I detail places people can look to read more about the key parts of my story.

If, for example, you write about being in the Navy, in the Gulf War, you should be speaking the truth. Few memoir writers or critics will dispute that.

scarletpeaches
03-27-2007, 12:43 AM
...Why is the written word held to such a higher standard?...

Because a memoir is supposed to be just that - a memoir.

At least fiction (even if the ending is changed for Hollywood) confesses to being fiction.

If someone writes fiction and tells you it's true, they're selling a lie and it's the lie that people object to.

IrishScribbler
03-27-2007, 02:19 AM
Because a memoir is supposed to be just that - a memoir.

At least fiction (even if the ending is changed for Hollywood) confesses to being fiction.

If someone writes fiction and tells you it's true, they're selling a lie and it's the lie that people object to.

How is a memoir any different from a film labeled "based on a true story"? And yet, few object when untruths are told there.

johnrobison
03-27-2007, 05:11 AM
How is a memoir any different from a film labeled "based on a true story"? And yet, few object when untruths are told there.

The answer is right there, in your words.

A movie "based upon a true story" is not a memoir. It's entertainment, like a novel based upon real events.

The movie equivalent of a memoir would be a documentary.

I have written about this issue before.

At the top level we have major claims about your life. There should be no question about whether you were in prison, in the navy, or if you climbed Mt Everest.

Below that, we have many story elements that will not be verifiable or provable. Did you catch five fish or fifty in that derby back in 1979? There are some who say, "don't put it in the story unless you are 100% sure it's right."

But I have learned that your truth and mine will often differ when it comes to long ago details. You say your brother Ted caught more fish than me. I say Ted wasn't even there that day. Both of us believe our versions to be the truth.

And it gets even more complex with behaviour. I think you got drunk and attacked me. You say we were just drinking buddies, having a good time. But from that day, the course of our lives diverged based upon differing perceived truths stemming from that event.

When you write a memoir, there will be some elements you can verify. For example, when I wrote about being on tour with KISS I did not remember the dates of the shows on the Dynasty tour. But I was easily able to get that info online. If you describe verifiable things like that in your story, you have a duty to get your facts straight.

What about those fish stories, though?

What I did was go back to the people who were there. What happened, I asked? Some said, you had five fish. Some said, you weren't there. One guy said twenty. In that instance, I had to make my best guess.

There were other times when the recollection of my friends showed me that my own memory was faulty. In those cases, I changed my story. There are others who would advise against that, though. They'd say, "Your memoir is YOUR story. If they want their story told, let them write their own book!"

There is some vaildity to that argument but in the interest of being as accurate as possible I chose to go with what I believed to be correct, as opposed to my vague recollection (recognizing that our own recollections tend to always favor 'our side')

calamity
03-27-2007, 04:11 PM
"Subject" is a bit abstract. Do you mean a theme of the memoir, like suicide, drug abuse, adoption, death? I think that 'subjects' come naturally from events, and in my opinion, major events should be true. I define major as those events which lead to choices or change in a character. I personally didn't have a problem with Frey changing some of the facts of his girlfriend's suicide -- can't remember now if she overdosed or slit her wrists, but he said she hung herself or something like that. To me, the major event there is that she committed suicide. Now, the whole train wreck thing is out of boundary for me -- it's a major event that did not happen to the protag, and yet it changes him in the story. That goes too far for me.

I agree with John's points 100%.

Also, I think it's important for would be memoirists to research their genre, find out what the form and limitations are, what's been done and how, what elements are similiar or different from other forms of nonfiction. You wouldn't try writing a sonnet without first having researched the form and its meaning, so why would you write in any other genre without doing the same thing? Writing is an art (at least for me) and a craft. We all come to it as apprentices. The more you read memoir and study it, the more confident and comfortable you'll become in making decisions about your story.