Saturday, June 02, 2007

Storytelling: fiction vs. memoirs

Which do you prefer to write? Fiction or memoirs?

Fiction writing has some great advantages over memoirs. When you're recounting something that actually happened, a lot of times the story would be more interesting if it had happened just a little differently. With a memoir? Tough luck! With fiction? No problem!!! :D

Since you don't have to be true to the facts, fiction gives you more liberty to be true to the story.

Still, I love writing memoirs. I've written far more memoirs than I've written fiction. I think memoir-writing is good exercise for writing fiction since it requires the same storytelling skills.

When you're writing a story that actually happened, it's not as though it has been recorded in your brain in some canonical form and you just need to download a copy from your brain onto the paper. You need to craft the story: decide what to include, what to skip, and how to say it. Even something as basic as deciding where an episode begins and where it ends is part of the difference between a memory and a narrative.

(Ninja writer C.V. Rick is an example I've stumbled upon recently of an excellent memoirist who has been turning memories into engaging stories and posting them.)

Personally I haven't written much fiction at all in the past year. It's not that I don't want to write fiction -- it's just that I don't want to sit down with the intention of writing fiction. I'd rather wait until I feel like I have a particular story to tell. That's how I've come up with all of my best work.

At the same time, I want to stay in practice so that when inspiration strikes, I'm ready. That's where memoirs come in: they're storytelling without the story-inventing part.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the compliment. I still write fiction as I have time, and I have quite a stable of stories written - as well as quite a collection of rejection slips. Memoir is something I never thought of writing until I picked up Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs and realized that memoir isn't touchy-feelie blechy stuff I don't like . . . and I realized that all those stories I've been telling people are actually interesting enough to write down.

Jul said...

I mostly find myself writing memoirs, on both my blog and for other travel writing. I haven't done enough fiction writing recently to say which I prefer, but I definitely need to give it another chance!

Cyn Bagley said...

I do a lot of memoir, mainly because I try to make sense of my experiences--some good and some bad.

Fiction--I aspire to.

JohnR said...

I wrote a story (that eventually got published in Sunstone) that is essentially a fictionalized memoir. It's based on my presence at my grandfather's funeral when I was a missionary in Japan. I decided that it would be more believable to Mormons as fiction. One example: in real life, I traveled across six missions all by myself; in my memoir, I added a companion.

I agree that there's the problem of memory and narrative in constructing a memoir (and all memoirs are constructs, or are merely boring lists of events). I think that memoir and fiction can be placed on a spectrum, and there is no clear line dividing the two. I like to think that the best fiction reveals more about the author's psyche and about humanity than any non-fiction work is capable of.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey C. V. Rick!!!

Re: "I realized that all those stories I've been telling people are actually interesting enough to write down." -- I know how you feel. I love telling stories, so I can't help but want to write them down. Particularly the ones that have gotten a good reaction when told to friends live. ;^)

Hey Jul!!!

I think it's probably typical to write more memoirs than fiction, particularly when blogging. But you can always switch back and forth as you follow your muse... ;^)

Hey Cynthia!!!

That's a good attitude, and similar to my idea of not wanting to come up with a story for the sake of writing fiction but rather writing fiction when I have a story to tell. Memoir -- writing to sort out your own experiences -- lays the groundwork.

Hey JohnR!!!

That's an excellent way of looking at it!!! I feel the same way -- both are acts of constructing a story out of your own thoughts and experiences.

And I agree that fiction can reveal more about the author's psyche and about humanity. That's kind of what I meant by saying that instead of being true to the facts you're free to be true to the story.

C. L. Hanson said...

p.s. to everybody who's reading this through the RSS feed -- sorry about editing so many posts on Sunday (and jamming up your readers with old stuff). I was just adding the "book review" tag to all of my book reviews, so that you can click on "book review" and see them all.

Since I switched to new blogger, I want to use those tags to group my posts by topic, so I'll probably be editing a lot more posts in the weeks to come -- sorry in advance...

Anonymous said...

I'm all about the memoirs. As anybody who has read any of my work knows, there is no fiction on earth that could be more bizarre and out there in the twilite zone than the truthful stories of my life; particularly back when mormonism was in the mix.

I'm just not clever enough to make up the kind of the shit that goes on in my life on a regular basis, so I stick to the memoirs thing.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Tom!!!

Well, you've written some beautiful memoirs!!! I loved reading Gay Mormon Stories and Two Roads Diverged.