Writing Memoir Versus Writing Fiction - Is There a Difference?
If I had been asked this question before I began writing a novel, the answer would have been a resounding, “Yes,” because I didn’t think I was a fiction writer. I’d been writing non-fiction for 30+ years as a public relations professional. And it took 10 years for me to bring my memoir into the world.
With memoir, I didn’t need to dream up characters--they were the people in my life. There was no plot invention--it consisted of actual events. No creating scenes with dialogue. I simply had to remember.
Good memoirs read like novels. You care about the characters. The story moves forward with the main character facing obstacles. There is a beginning, middle and end. The difference, then, is that the memoir is true. I won’t get into the controversial issue of truth in memoir--that’s a whole other blog post. So, for the reader of memoir versus fiction, the fact that it’s a true story may be the only difference.
For me, the writer, however, the difference has been huge. With memoir, I had my entire life to draw upon. Yes, I had to choose which events to include, whom to leave in and out, what snippets of dialogue would convey what I wanted. With a novel, one only has their imagination and some research.
You might wonder why I chose fiction now, rather than stick with a genre I’m familiar and comfortable with. I didn’t. It chose me. I was vacationing in Ireland when a voice asked me to tell its story. I’ve been discovering who and what the voice is ever since. I’m not ready to talk about the story yet, but I can say it isn’t easy opening up, allowing it to emerge.
Memoir isn’t easy either. I opened in a different way, willing to speak my truth about bad choices and tough decisions. Being a fiction writer is a different kind of tough. Whichever genre you work in, the craft similarities are there. It’s the emotional journey, I think, that makes writing them so different.
Helen, thank you so much for allowing me to guest here today. You are such a gift to writers of all genres.
Thank you so much, Karen!
I don’t write memoir, so I find it fascinating to hear from those who do - and who also write fiction. Karen, not only has written her memoir, Following the Whispers, she’s published essays in newspapers and magazines, as well as an anthology series. She’s also spent more than 30 years in marketing and public relations. One, among many, things I found interesting about Karen is that after those 30 years, she went back to college to complete a Bachelor's degree and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2005 from the University of New Mexico's University Studies program with a major emphasis in Creative Writing. One thing she might not tell you, but I will … she does international folk dancing and has a beautiful singing voice.
What about all of you? Do you write both fiction and memoir? Would you like to? What questions or comments do you have for Karen?