Category Archives: Catholicism in the 1950s

Only Child on when to write memoir or fiction

Sharon A. Crawford aka Only Child Writes. I promise I won’t repeat this photo each week.

I thought it fitting today to talk about writing – fiction versus memoir – when to use each – at least in my experience.

A short story or novel can come from something in real life – yours or someone else’s. It could be a news story, a classified ad, a personal experience, a friend or relative’s experience, something you see or hear, etc. But that experience is only the idea that kick-starts the story. For fiction, you need to use your imagination to create your plot and your characters.

For memoir, you gotta tell the truth – at least as you see it. This means real people, real events, although you may not remember exactly what everyone said. I’ve learned that as long as you are sure A and B were in the same place at the same time, they probably spoke – unless you know or find out they were feuding and not speaking. You can also check with others (family, friends) who knew the people involved and the scene in question for input. And if the people involved are still living you can talk to them. This is where it can get interesting because everyone sees the same event differently.

When do you write memoir and when do you write fiction? There is no hard and fast rule but here’s what I do. As those following this blog remember, my original memoir version got hit by family flak – they didn’t mind fictionalizing some of the stories, but some of the narrative they didn’t want in (this was from reading one chapter and based on some of the questions I had asked them). So I revamped the memoir to focus on my story, deleted the “objectionable” stuff and…got busy with the fiction.

So far one short story I wrote got its idea from something that happened with my relatives. And in another story, one character is loosely based on a relative and another character in another story originated with someone I once worked with. But that’s it – the stories are fiction and so are the characters. The real life events and people only planted the proverbial seed and the fictional took over.

Some stories have to be told as I see them. They just don’t work as triggers for fictional stories. They are too important not to narrate as they happened. With me it was being bullied as a child – both by a so-called friend, who I call “The Bully” in my memoir, and the nun who became principal at the grade school I attended. The two are important to what I was, what I experienced as a child and how I turned out as an adult. For example, if I had not been bullied I may not be so gung-ho on justice and fairness – which includes presenting both sides of the story. Heck, it is possibly a big factor in my becoming a journalist. It also may have something to do with why I think people who commit crimes need to be punished (although I think my Catholic upbringing in the late 50s and 60s has a lot to do with that attitude). However, my basic honesty and integrity came from my mother.

And I’ve tried writing short stories about kids being bullied but the stories never go anywhere and some read downright silly.

Rule of thumb: Write nonfiction – memoir, nonfiction article, whatever – about what is important to you to bring out into the open as fact. I know there are issues of will so-and-so sue me or get angry or? You need to consider these to a certain point. Don’t let them get in the way of writing your true story if you believe it is necessary to do so.

Like me, if you’ve already received flak and decide not to write it as memoir or personal essay, then use it as the trigger for fiction, and let your imagination soar with plot and characters.

My take on this. And I’m sticking to it.

What do you think?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

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Filed under Catholicism in the 1950s, Family Flak Memoirs, Fictional characters, Libel in Memoir Writing, Memoir content, Naming Names in Memoirs, Only child memoir, School days

Only Child tackles starting the memoir

Only Child at 13 and Dad on veranda of house where she grew up

When I first started writing my memoir I had a very different take on what I wanted to include. I wanted it to be more family history – mainly the dead relatives and my relationship with them – when they were alive. I’m not that weird. Some family flak, as well as some constructive criticism from another writer, steered me in another direction. My memoir is now my story of growing up a shy only child of elderly parents in the 1950s and 1960s when Dad is dying of cancer and the environment is old-school Catholic.

When you find your memoir muse, writing the actual memoir can seem daunting. Where do you start? Where do you go?

In my last post https://onlychildwrites.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/only-child-on-finding-your-memoir-muse-2/ I talked about using the kaleidoscope method to narrow down what the heck you want to write about. When you decide if it is overcoming your drug addiction, your crazy childhood or your travels through the Yukon, that’s the branch of your kaleidoscope you use to create an outline.

But before you do that, you want to write down your memoir’s focus or mission statement. As I did above, try to get it down to one sentence, two sentences maximum. This will help you create your outline.

“Create” and “Outline” seem worlds apart. But if you just write “from the seat of your pants” your memoir will be all over the place. Just remember that whatever you put in this outline may not be what you end up with. Keep an open mind for change because as you write your memoir, things will change – perhaps your perspective, perhaps due to family flak, perhaps boredom on your part. Consider your outline a “work-in-progress.”

Then…

  • Do it as a chapter-by-chapter setup or as subject matter you wish to cover. This is just to get you started – to move you from mission statement to content.
  • Under each “subject” listed, write a few sentences or list (whichever works best for you) what you could cover there.
  • If you need to dig further for information, make a note in brackets (further info needed).

That’s it in a nutshell. And, once you write your beginning chapter, you don’t need to write the chapters in the order listed. Perhaps you are missing some research for Chapter Two or the content of Chapter Five is calling your muse.  Follow it. That’s being creative. Remember, you still have your outline to steer you in…later.

Happy memoir writing.

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes.

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, cancer, Catholicism in the 1950s, Elderly parents, Memoir writing, Only child memoir, Organizing Memoir, Sharon Crawford