Sunday, January 15, 2006

The whole truth...sort of

Have you seen all the buzz about James Frey's book, "A Million Little Pieces?" Apparently he wrote his memoirs and took some creative license with a few of the rather important facts. Now there's a debate raging about the necessity of truth in memoirs--and frankly, the very fact that there's a debate at all shows us just how badly society is crumbling--with one side saying that memoirs fall under the genre umbrella of non-fiction and should therefore be all truth, and the other side saying that a little embellishment is really no big deal when the majority of the story is true to real life.

I'm getting ready to start my first non-fiction work, and not far behind it is my own memoir attempt. The first work will be about other people, and I don't foresee having a problem sticking to the facts with that one. But I have to admit that, while I don't condone what he did, I can certainly understand where Frey was coming from. When I think about some of the things I'll have to admit in order to stay true to my life, I get a little worried. Do I really want to admit to it all? Do I really want to give complete strangers an unflinching full-frontal view of my shortcomings, my stupidity, my immaturity? And what about other people whose lives figure into my story--is it fair to expose them as well? I guess I could give them the option of being shielded with the whole "Names have been changed to protect the innocent" concept.

And then what about the not-so-exciting facts, the mundane parts of the story that would be a lot more interesting with a few twists and exaggerations? Part of me thinks my story is way too lame for anyone to consider riveting reading--will I be able to withstand the temptation to give into hyperbole? Not much, just a few instances here or there that wouldn't have any bearing on the bulk of the story. Because, really, can you expect a fiction writer to refrain from fiction ALL the time?

Obviously the answer is yes, you can, and you should. And obviously I'm not going to let myself give into that temptation--I can't even blame a few embellishments here and there on a fuzzy memory because I actually wrote every night in a diary during the year abroad that I'll be chronicling. But I can guarantee I'll be wincing as I write and really wishing that truth was a gray as some people would like it to be.

Michael Frey's deception was wrong, minor thought it might be--but I can definitely understand why he did it.

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