Accept the importance of facts!
Facts, such as dates, addresses, names, and relationships are a basis of memoir writing. Memoir writing cannot, without deleting from its value, stray from the importance of facts: dates and specific identification of locales, names of individuals and their relationships to one another. Memoir writing is factual writing. A lifestory without facts is like a map without route numbers. Whether I know the people in the stories or not, I always want to be able to move easily in the complicated terrain of relationships and the sequence of events so that I might, through reading, form my own views about the character.
1. Facts help us to evaluate.
That someone started to play with the symphony orchestra at age 15 is very different from starting to play at age 20 or at 25. At fifteen, one is a prodigy; at 20, gifted; at 25, talented. It is impossible for the reader to assess subtleties of character without this information.
2. Facts determine relationships with precision.
I want to know whether Uncle Ralph was Grandmother’s youngest brother, or Grandfather’s older one. Or, even more complicated, was he in fact a cousin who because of a close relationship, was always called Uncle Ralph. The writer may know the answer but it’s almost guaranteed that the writer’s grandchildren will not and certainly the grandchildren’s children will not. The reader who has bought the book will be unable to capture the nuances below the surface of the story without these details. There’s no denying the importance of facts.
3. Facts help the reader to locate parts of the past shared with the writer.
When you say you were born downtown in a tenement–exactly where was that? Was it on Oak, or Birch, or Walnut St.? Besides helping the reader to interpret your story, this information certainly will make it possible for someone to go to the actual site where you were born, or empathize because of his or her own experience.
4. Facts help the reader to maintain an independence from the writer.
When these sorts of details are omitted, the reader is forced to rely on the writer to understand what the story might mean. (Most readers are not comfortable with this relationship to the writer.) Sometimes, factual writing is also important if readers are to know which parts of a lifestory is appropriate to apply the lessons of to their own lives.
We’ve all had the experience of meeting someone in person after having been “told all about them” through another’s description–only to realize that the description we received reveals more about its author than its subject. Again, the importance of facts.
Good luck writing!
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