Liberties with facts ultimately, I believe, undermine the authority of a memoirist to present his/her life experience as a lived (vs. fictionalized) version of the mythic journey. The lived hero’s tale must figure at the center of every memoir if the story is to rise above a chronology, a dirge or an encomium.
DL: the following is an adaptation of a reply I made on LinkedIn to comments about how writing autobiographical fiction was pretty much the same as memoir. You will read that I disagree strongly. (If you are a member of LinkedIn, I would love to have a LinkedIn connection with you if we are not already connected.
Should I write memoir or autobiographical fiction?
I sometimes get asked this question and I have to confess that my reaction is firm. They are not the same.
There is a clear difference—a chasm really—between the choice of memoir or autobiographical fiction. While one has chosen to write one or the other, one does not have a choice to call one by the name of another. The writer owes it to the reader to be clear. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
The difference between a memoir and an autobiography can be rather minimal—or they can be fairly large. “So what is the difference between a memoir and an autobiography?” you may persist in asking as so many people do. Practically speaking, for most people, there is no difference. In common speech, the terms are interchangeable. But […]
What Makes It Memoir or Autobiographical Fiction?
I read a memoir that did well here in Maine (it’s by an excellent Maine writer)—I can’t vouch for its reach in the rest of the country. I’m left wondering if it is memoir or autobiographical fiction.
It’s an interesting book, very well-written in terms of style and organization, but my nagging doubt is that it is autobiographical fiction and not memoir. I will choose to leave the book nameless as my intent is not to be negative about it but only to use it to elucidate a point about memoir writing which I think is important to keep in mind as we write.
I have frequently spoken about using fiction techniques to make a memoir more interesting. Dialog, for instance, can be marvelous. The trick, as I have offered frequently, is to use only a few words in direct dialog (“I won’t,” she said) and then put the rest in indirect dialog (She said that was because blah, blah, blah…)