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Lusty Lady

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Thursday, February 03, 2011

Jennifer Lauck on revising memoir and who owns your story

I'm busy packing so all the blog posts and articles and stories in my head I've been meaning to write, well, I hope they will get written soon. In the meantime, Found author Jennifer Lauck has a fascinating post up at SheWrites about changing her memoir very late in the game because someone in it had objected to how they were portrayed. Her response was to remove them entirely from the manuscript. I'm fascinated by the memoir process, how composite characters work, how the path to shaping a particular truth gets changed by market forces, morality, editorial concerns. I'm the kind of person who is a gullible reader, who gets so sucked into the story I often forget that it is not just a story, but a single version of a story. One side. I've been trying to think about that, but not to the point where it stymies me, when I write, about things as innocuous as sleeping patterns, as well as about missed calls and endings of relationships. I said the other day that if you focus entirely on what someone else might think of what you write, it'd be almost impossible to write anything. Yet there are always so many versions of the truth, shadings, ways of padding it or stripping it down.

Rather, I removed this person, in total, from the pages of my book.

This is one of the hardest (and most interesting) aspects of writing memoir. The people in our lives, who are inevitably going to end up in the lines, will have a different view of the experiences we write about. Depending how evolved people are, they will react strongly or not at all. Some will care. Others will not. Most often, if a person is positively portrayed in a book, they are delighted. If they are complex on the page, the reaction is usually very strong and quite negative.

Still, no one has the right to rewrite a memoirist’s book. Memoir defined is a story about the writer's experience and what she does with her experience in order to grow, even evolve as a human being. A memoir is the point of view of the writer because it is about her life and her perception of an experience. That is what a reader expects from a memoir and that is what a good memoir produces. To allow another, relatively minor character, in your memoir to alter your truth for the sake of their continued friendship or even love is no friendship and no love. That is not relationship. That is occupation.

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