|Memoir Is Not Fiction|
Thursday, September 20th, 2012 at 4:56 pm
Most contemporary literary writers write, and are educated to write, fiction as if it is a variant of writing memoir. Teachers of creative writing ask students to find what is meaningful for them, what is in their hearts? So when students write "fiction" stories–novels or shorter works–they write from their own experience; describe their own feelings; deliver their own opinions; describe their own memories for setting and scene events; and establish a voice for the work, their voice, without ever creating voices for a narrator or characters as distinct entities. Dialogue especially suffers, since everything in quotes is little changed from what the author would say and think.
But story structure is weak also. Fictional stories in memoir style seem to have little or no purpose and fail to have dramatic progression. In memoir style, almost always the author is the narrator, directly or indirectly, in first and third person, which limits the story presentation to the author's world-view, mind, and experience. And imagination (forming new ideas and concepts) to create story is limited in memoir style to the author's view of the world and descriptions of recollections.
Memoir-generated fiction is now accepted by readers as literary, mainly because of the number of authors who default to this style of writing. The style is easier to write and allows anyone, regardless of language skills, to tell a self-centered story that is increasingly being published today as literary fiction. But is memoir-based fiction really being accepted by readers? In today's stressed market with perceived shifting needs, literary fiction doesn't sell books to publishers' satisfaction. That may be because what is labeled as literary fiction is just sloppy memoir.
In the minds of most writers, what literary fiction is little more than a vague mist. Yet, the classics written as fiction (as it has continued to develop over the past three centuries) are rich with vibrant examples of great fiction. Great literary fiction is character-based, that is, the strengths and weaknesses of characters drive the plot. Great fiction is created by the author; told by the narrator in the narrator's own, distinct, world-view voice; and acted out by characters, who may in story-appropriate enhancing situations, create their own distinctive voices. And literary stories have meaning, something happens, and someone is enlightened–character or reader, and often both be it usually in different ways. Literary fiction is permeated with humor, usually in the form of irony, and has an understandable moral overlay, a morality that is story specific and not, for maximum effectiveness, the morality lived and pronounced by the author. The writing in literary fiction is dramatic, interesting, engaging, and accurate with pinpoint word choice and carefully considered grammar appropriately chosen for the story.
And literary fiction is imagined, never just narrative description from authorial memories. Not that the literary author doesn't draw on his or her experiences, and seeks stimulation from the past for engagement and function of the imagination. For imaginative fiction, the author's world is only a nidus that stimulates imaginative use of a broader-than-author world, but the author's world is not the foundation or the embellishment of great literary stories.
In essence and in contrast to memoir, literary stories are created by their authors, but authors create from broad views of the world fortified by experience and observation. Narrators and characters contribute to stories from their own special (author-created) worldviews.
The author's presence in the literary story is through the uniqueness of his or her creative abilities, the quality of the imagination, the skill of the writing, and by the author narrating through narrator and characters imagined for the story world; the author's worldview from their own narrow world is not present, or at least not dominant.
Literary fiction takes time, experience, hard work, vibrant imagination, and intellectual investment to produce unique, accurate, image-invoking writing and development of characters with unique characteristics that mesh synergistically with story, plot, and a recognizable reason for writing. Great memoir is an excellently written, well-crafted presentation of an author's life events and experiences–often emotional and intellectual change–as told by the author.
Readers need literature written with fiction techniques and sophisticated narration to attain pleasure, a feeling of discovery, a new way of seeing the world, and a desire to continue to read to find the qualities of great stories and characters that only a writer of fiction, writing well and telling unique stories, can provide.« Back to post listing