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Memoir Question : Writers' Block Party • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

Memoir Question

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Dek2016
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Memoir Question

Postby Dek2016 » Tue Sep 13, 2016 1:08 pm

Yes, I'm working on a memoir of sorts (It's ok, roll your eyes and groan. I'm aware everyone has a "life story" worth telling. Gag.)

I haven't decided how much of it to fictionalize (a la Sylvia Plath and The Bell Jar), or if I should present it as Creative Non Fiction and allow the critics to write me off as yet another woman with a trauma who thinks she can write something original.

Anyway, whether I write it for myself or an audience, the story needs to be told. It's been rolling around in my head for a few years, and it needs to be on paper. I just picked up Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir, so maybe she will help with some of my questions. This may seem silly to others, but it's been nearly ten years since I have been in a creative writing class, so I feel like I'm starting over in a way.

When I was in the middle of this particular trauma (think The Girl on the Train minus the murder mystery), I wrote a lot of it down. I saved entire conversations. Someone was convincing me I was losing my mind, and was busy pulling puppet strings, while I continued to search for answers, even while convinced I was at fault or crazy somehow. Now that I have survived this particular time, I read these things I wrote, and this other person wrote, and I can see it clearly. Some of these conversations just can't be made up. They are that bizarre.

I guess my question is: how much of this would you use? Am I allowed to put the exact words someone else said in text or email into a book? How much creative license do I have in this case? I will obviously condense and summarize and move around details to fit a narrative arc, and no one would be known by a real name, but do I have a right to write about these conversations, even as they impacted me? Is it considered an invasion of expected privacy? And what about the crimes that I would imply happen (in my viewpoint at the time I saw them as "misunderstandings")? Am I allowed to tell my story as it happened? Would you? I'm still in the raw material stage, so I'm just trying to figure out what I can or should write.

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u.v.ray
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Re: Memoir Question

Postby u.v.ray » Tue Sep 13, 2016 2:51 pm

I use unaltered dialogue I've heard all the time.

But of course, when it comes to telling a story there are multiple ways of telling it. Though it was Truman Capote with his In Cold Blood who pioneered what he called the non-fiction novel.
Out from Murder Slim Press:
We Are Glass - Short Stories.
Spiral Out - novella
The Migrant - novella
Black Cradle - novel

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devildogwhite
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Re: Memoir Question

Postby devildogwhite » Tue Sep 13, 2016 6:32 pm

There is no Miss Zarves. There is no nineteenth story. Sorry.

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cynicalwanderer
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Re: Memoir Question

Postby cynicalwanderer » Wed Sep 14, 2016 3:38 am

Might be worth researching how other books in the genre have tackled the issue. Memoirs can be straight retellings, sure, but in that case the trick is to know what to leave out. A blow-by-blow conversation doesn't always translate well to the written page, so it may be worth trying to condense down all the filler and get at the essence of what was said, rather than sticking religiously to verbatim.

If your story is one that fits into the "misery lit" genre, then keep in mind that those sorts of stories generally end in some sort of emotional catharsis or redeeming climax, where both the author and the reader can experience a sense of closure. If your real-life story lacks that closure and the book would be just a catalogue of abuse and gaslighting, then you might have a story with a start and middle, but no end. It's a tough field to write in - good luck with it.

A little aside - I read The Girl on the Train probably two years ago, and thought it reasonably well done. Lately though, in the last few months, I've seen people reading it EVERYWHERE - on trains, planes, waiting rooms (I once saw two strangers pull it out in the same waiting room). There seems to have been some massive change in its status, that from a fairly obscure e-book when I read it, it's now being promoted all over the place. Does anyone know why this is? Has a movie been announced or something that gave the book a sudden spike in sales? It's a little mystery that I've been wondering about, that's all.
"I've stopped giving advice. Even when people ask for it, they resent getting it." -Ross Macdonald.

Dek2016
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Re: Memoir Question

Postby Dek2016 » Wed Sep 14, 2016 9:34 am


Dek2016
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Re: Memoir Question

Postby Dek2016 » Wed Sep 14, 2016 9:38 am


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cynicalwanderer
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Re: Memoir Question

Postby cynicalwanderer » Wed Sep 14, 2016 10:07 am

"I've stopped giving advice. Even when people ask for it, they resent getting it." -Ross Macdonald.


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