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Writing Books/Memoir or Fiction Novel?


I have a "story" that i have been working that is completely based on true events in my life. I'm having trouble deicding if this is a Memoir or a Novel and really want to know so that i can make any changes now, before moving forward. So far the story is completely based on true events, but just to move the story along ((and because i can't recall details from 4 years ago)) some of the dialog is made up, so that doesnt hold to the "always tell the truth" rule in memoirs. Also I have changed the names of characters slightly to protect obvious identity (Josiah to Jonah, Albert to Arnold). Now I'm being told that if it's a novel, i have to change the names completely as well as physical discriptions, and makes sure that no one will ever be able to identify the people that it is based off of. where as if i make it a memoir I can keep everything the same (I'm not worried about people getting mad or trying to sue) But I would have to make sure EVERY detail is accurate, so I couldn't include dialog that i don't remember or, for example, change time (Like cut out 6 months of an uneventful period) So I guess my question is whether or not the information I have been given is accurate, and if it is, which route would be better for what I have written so far, a novel or a memoir?

Thanks for your inquiry, Jamie.

You are correct in all you say. It's a toss-up and the decision is up to you.

I have a friend who has written three novels based on true events in his life, greatly embellished for more interesting storytelling. He changed all the names and places.

Some memoirists change names and places and note those in the beginning, often on the copyright page. For example, Ira Wagler in his memoir, Growing Up Amish, declared on the copyright page that several names in specified pages were not the names of the real persons.

Don't worry about remembering conversations precisely as they were spoken. Capturing the gist of the event is more important as long as you remain within the truth of the total situation. In Mary Karr's memoir, Liar's Club, she writes full pages of dialog which she could not possibly remember word for word. She also changed the name of her Texas hometown.

Ask your librarian to suggest several books on writing memoir and life story to see how others have handled things. Attend meetings of your nearest writers' club and ask members did it. Your librarian should know how to contact the club.

Best wishes for every success.

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Wayne Groner


I can answer questions on all aspects of writing memoirs, biographies, family histories, and corporate histories including handling sensitive issues, interviewing, editing, self-publishing, and setting up a business as a memoir writer.


I have more than twenty-five years of experience as a radio and television news reporter, author, freelance writer, and workshop presenter. I present classes to nonprofits and professional groups, "How to Write Your Memoir or Life Story." I'm author of four nonfiction books. My latest book is A Guide to Writing Your Memoir or Life Story: Tools, Tips, Methods and Examples, available in paperback and eBook at Amazon. I'm past president of Springfield Writers' Guild (Missouri). My articles and book reviews on a variety of topics have been published in national magazines and on the Web. I was a senior-level college administrator for twenty-seven years, including nine years as a vice president, during which I wrote newsletters, brochures, magazine articles, and published and edited an alumni magazine.

Missouri Center for the Book, Springfield Writers' Guild, Greene County Historical Society, Christian County Historical Society.

Books: Witnesses of Hope, Faith, Love and Healing; Dumb Luck or Divine Guidance; The Pastor's Guide to Fund-raising Success; Levell-Drew Family History. National magazines including CASE Currents, Congregations, Ozarks Mountaineer, Your Community Hospice, Power and Light series of Sunday-school curriculum for adult learners.

Graceland College

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