As a small child I was taught to tell the truth and this I did unwaveringly until I got into trouble for telling it. I cannot remember exactly what the incident was but I know it was something to do with the old man we had seen that morning from my bedroom window. We had watched, with the nasty type of glee that only children have, as the chaps’ toupee blew off in the wind. I must have later imparted the news that he was bald and I was left in no doubt that I had done the wrong thing. “But you told me I should never tell a lie” I informed my parents. The lesson of the white lie versus the black lie was then taught to me. Black and white became a little less black and a little less white, greying but resistant to the change.
It appeared that if what you were going to say was going to hurt someone then you must lie. If what you were going to say was going to hurt yourself you had to tell the truth – lying in this instance not being permissible. It seemed jolly unfair to me until my level of understanding increased with my maturing age. When I really did see things in grey.
So how does this fit in with memoir writing. You are writing about yourself therefore you must tell the truth. Your readers expect it. At the same time there are other people involved and at times what you write may hurt them so are you then compelled to lie? The question of truth and honesty in memoir is a much written about subject. There are instances such as James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces which have created much controversy as it was sold originally as a memoir when it was more fiction than fact.
Creativity is allowed in the dialogue used and in the blurring of time frames, otherwise a memoir must be true. When it comes to the truth in the narrative however, the situation becomes a little more difficult as each person’s reality (truth) will be different. Therefore if the author’s remembrances are not true but it IS the author’s reality, is this then the truth?
Then you need to consider the other people in the memoir. How important are they to you? I don’t believe that you can change events to protect as that is lying about yourself to your audience. Either the book cannot be written until that person is gone or written as fiction or under a pseudonym. Or take the dare, bite the bullet, talk to the person and hope for the best as in memoir writing, truth is paramount.
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