Saturday, March 10, 2012

Memoir Writing VI: Condensing And Memory Lapse

Welcome to day six of Memoir Week. Whew, after that last entry, I'm somewhat terrified, and relieved. Hopefully I still have some followers coming around...(Are you there still?)

Anyways, today's topic is on Condensing and Memory Lapse.

Hands down, favorite notebook,
At AWP, someone talked about a memoir that had been written. The author went through and wrote about this grand, hours long surgery. He wrote about it once, meaning it had only been one surgery, when in fact, it had been multiple. He felt it was okay to condense all of this into that one passage. What do you think?

Truthfully, there sometimes is a memory lapse; those moments when you try to get the chronological order of things, but without documentation, it's impossible. You can't remember what color the counter top was 14 years ago, or the exact pair of pants. But, there are ways to solve this problem.

One way, is to ask a friend who was around, for help. Ask them questions, get their rendition of what happened. See how it applies to yours. In the end, go with your memory, as this is your memoir, your story, from what you remember.

Another way is to say things like, "It may have been 5a.m. when Jackson snuck out of the house." That way you're not being definitive. You're not saying it WAS 5a.m. you're saying you're unsure. Readers will cut you some slack as long as you're not writing definitives.

One other way is to be point blank and say, "I'm not sure when this happened, but I know this happened." Or even, "Though I'm writing this as one surgery, it was really several surgeries over time." You could even do the old school.* And at the bottom of the page, match the star and elaborate that there's a bit of a fib there. That way the reader won't feel completely cheated.

But if possible, try to trigger those memories. Did you keep a journal at the time? Notebooks? Twitter? Facebook? Photographs? What about asking your friends and family about what happened? What about asking them if they have pictures?

Pretty much, as a reader, I know you're going to lie to me a little bit because you probably don't have a photographic memory. It's called creative nonfiction for a reason, but please, be as truthful as you can be.

Tomorrow's post will be a tribute to memoirs. Stay tuned for the books that rocked my socks.


  1. I don't mind if things aren't quite true, as long as they are true as far as the author remembers. I also don't mind condensing (after all, if I'm honest, I don't want to read about multiple similar surgeries), just add a line and let me know this was one of many.

  2. I'm even completely fine with a discalimer at the beginning at the beginning that everything is subject to memory. Sometimes memory, even if wrong about the facts, is more "true" than the facts.


Please know that if you comment and I don't respond, it's not because I don't love you. It's because I don't have wifi, but I do have a bad memory.

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