Friday, January 7, 2011

Are You Telling The Truth or Writing Fiction? by Stanley L. Klemetson

As I sit at my computer on this cold winter evening in Orem, Utah, with the temperature outside at about 2 ⁰F and frozen snow on the ground, my mind travels back over my journey in this life. I have just finished reading ‘Turning Life into Fiction’ by Robin Hemley and I am preparing to write about my adventures either as fiction or as family history. Mr. Hemley said that “…most autobiographic books stretch the truth from time to time, exaggerating and bending events to fit the story or the characters.” He also says the most outlandish fiction stories often contain a bit of real life experiences.

Each of us has interesting stories that we would like to share with our grandchildren. Do we have a responsibility to record the events of our lives for our descendants in a diary or journal as we think they happened? Or do we leave our family with a few short accurate paragraphs about ourselves and then use everything else as fodder for fiction stories that they might enjoy reading more. But what is the truth we want to tell? Is it accurate? Tell a story of a time you shared with a spouse or a friend and then have that person retell the story. Is it the same story or does point of view impact the details of the story. And what if your version of the story does not speak in glowing terms about the other person?

On January 22nd I am taking a class from Dr. Delma Porter at McNeese on Creative Non-Fiction Writing. For that class I read the book ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott. She talks about taking major events or small episodes from our lives and shaping or exaggerating things to capture what life felt like. This leads me to think about another way to present our life’s experiences, or at least use them as a basis for stories.

I have prepared long detailed lists of episodes that come together to form major events. It is tempting to include everything, ‘because it really happened,’ but that does not always make a very interesting story and even I have to ask, ‘is it believable.’ Are all of the people important to the story or would a composite person be better to convey the feeling of the story. I am currently writing stories loosely based upon real events, but with characters, dialogues, and time frames modified to convey the stories, conflicts and resolutions.

Should I write my stories at all or just use the characters, circumstances, and settings that I use to bring life into the stories. Once those elements are in place then I am just the recorder of the truthful stories of those characters. At a workshop I attended last summer with Orson Scott Card we were assigned to interview someone. My partner and I interviewed a women in a book store to gather details about her life that I could use as a starting point of my story. In my life and travels there are many other starting points for stories. Of course these would be pure fiction stories as compared to the stories based upon personal past experiences.

Since it is unlikely that I will ever make a living at writing I still enjoy writing for my family and I also enjoy seeing my name in print. It is a conflict that I will continue to have as I search to find out what is truth and what is fiction.


  1. A familiar struggle, Stan -- truth versus fiction. But one worth pursuing.

  2. I can attest to the fact that truth really is stranger than fiction sometimes, Stan. Good point.