Memoir or Short Story – A Creative Decision Made During Pandemic by Mike Croucher

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing my memoirs for a while now. But I’ve always written fiction, and memoirs present challenges to the what-if mindset of fiction writers. Memoirs are factual, with elements of fancy used very carefully. That’s a tall order because we rely on dialogue and vivid description to advance our plots. Also, remembering exactly what occurred, or what was said in the past is often difficult, if not impossible, and the temptation to polish up dialogue, descriptions and characters is strong. Most fiction writers need to pull their readers along by building interest, so the temptation to fictionalize memoir becomes very powerful. I’ve decided to avoid the temptation, I’m going to utilize my creative liberties and treat my memoir material as fiction; change names and alter situations where needed.

I’ve had plenty of time to read during the lockdown, and a piece of the late Alistair MacLeod’s writing helped me make this decision. He addressed this dilemma in a notation at the start of a short story – To Every Thing There Is a Season – one of my favourites, a beautifully written piece.

He wrote in the notation…‘Yet when I speak (of the past), I am not sure how much I speak with the voice of that time or how much in the voice of what I have since become. And I am not sure how many liberties I may be taking with (who) I think I was…For both past and present…are often imperfectly blended. As we step into nowness we often look behind.’ MacLeod nailed it.

I will still write and keep a private copy of my non-fictionalized memoirs, but I’m fictionalizing some of them. That way, I’ll have more short story material, and I’ll be free to tell the stories in a way that has a better chance to entertain readers, and hopefully compel them to read on. I’ll always have plenty to write about. I wonder if writers occasionally suffer from writer’s block because they’re seeking inspiration from the outside. They ignore the inspirational treasure boxes within: experiences, memories and an imagination that is not compromised by fear of crossing the line between fiction and memoir.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Kathryn (Kate) MacDonald says:

    Good luck with your project. I love the Alistair MacLeod quote. Alice Munro said something similar about writing “The View From Castle Rock” (2006) — she had to “make up” so much of the story that she published it as fiction, although she went to Scotland to explore her roots in order to tell the story of her settle-ancestors.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I very much like your creative solution to the challenges of writing memoir, Mike. I have taken a similar solution with one story, because too much of one key character’s thinking and motives would have been guess-work on my part. I do believe one can be a lot more creative with memoirs, however, than many writers are. Imagination and wonder can lift a true story to great heights, and is more honest than writing something you’re not sure of/don’t remember fully. “Looking back at that time in my life, I imagine/I wonder if….” can reveal both insights and larger truths to the reader and the writer.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Esther Fine says:

    An important and interesting discussion – I appreciated reading this posting as I too am wrestling with such questions both in my memoir writing and my fiction pieces – trying to sort out which is which and how they differ. Esther Fine

    Liked by 4 people

    1. kimaubrey says:

      Yes, I’ve been struggling with this question too. After years of writing memoir that mostly felt unsatisfying, I’m back to fiction, and have plans to rewrite some memoir pieces as fiction too. Either that or start from scratch with auto-fiction. Exciting to have choices!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Yes, reading both Alice Munro and Alistair MacLeod offer insight

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Diane Taylor says:

    Mike, this is an interesting solution for the fiction/nonfiction choices and gives you lots to write about in years to come. A lot of truth can come from the question of who was I then versus who am I now. The two selves can be interwoven, the older self occasionally commenting on a (for example) foolish choice the younger one made, and I’m doing that now with a memoir and it’s quite fun. Now I want to read To Everything There is a Season.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Kathryn (Kate) MacDonald says:

      Patrick Lane’s memoir, There is a Season, and Lorna Crozier’s new memoir, Through the Garden, are excellent examples of literary memoirs. They look with honesty at memory, but also creatively seek understanding about the past’s influence on the present and the present’s responsibility for today/how we are now. Less, it turns out about what was, and more its impact on what is. Add these two authors to Alistair MacLeod and Alice Munro.

      Liked by 2 people

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