Sandra J Nantais
Fuzzy details? Fading colors? Forgotten dates? All these concerns plague a memoir writer along, as does the bigger question: “Can I ask someone and still make it my own?”
Unless you have an incredible memory, you will have to do research or interviews to nudge recollections and sketch them out. It is still your story.
I had wanted to write a slice of my childhood about a circus that set up around the block from us one year. I had started thinking it was an imagined childhood fiction because I couldn’t find anyone who remembered it, nor could I find the photograph of me that I remembered my dad taking. Thanks to social media, I finally discovered this was not a dream.
Not only did I find truth in my memory, but I also discovered the name of the circus. Using this tidbit of information doesn’t mean I have to give credit to the person who provided it, nor does it mean the memoir isn’t mine because someone else filled in the minor details.
Here’s another example. For years I had two memorial events stuck in the second grade years of my life. I remember picking up my oldest brother from the airport when I was in the second grade and that I was a flower girl in my sister’s wedding. But now as my oldest sister’s 60th birthday looms, I realize there was no way she married when I was seven years old. She was still in high school.
Verbally I could keep holding on to my story, but once ink hits the paper it becomes set and an eagle eye reader (or my own sister!) could catch this error. I would lose credibility.
From mentioning a candy bar to a television show, you need to make sure they existed in the time frame you are using.
Timelines also can be sketchy, but taking a few moments to get dates in a sensible chronological order will help with the flow of your memoir.
You can also use other resources to fact check. Photographs, public records, letters, school year books, and the Internet all can assist with details and add accurate facts to you memoir.
Not every detail needs to be exact. If you remember the local park having patchy grass and dented slides, but your brother remembers it being a lush green with shiny, slick slides, it’s okay to describe how you perceived it.
Remember, you will run into some difficulty remembering exactly what happened and possibly when. Whether you ask a sibling about a detail you deem important or enlist records to secure correct dates, the memoir is still your story.