How Does Autobiography Work in Fiction

1.1K 60 90

Subtitle: Why I labeled my collection of short stories The Woman Who Never Cooked non-fiction and a probing answer to the difficult question, Where is the TRUTH? (*asterisks refer to footnotes at the end of this essay).

You know the line: Truth is stranger than fiction? I have a twist on that. I've learned through the writing of three books and a fourth in process* as I write this essay that the fictional account of my stories have greater emotional truth and intellectual significance than the factual ones.

As memoir has increased in popularity** both in books and movies—"A True Story" being the familiar movie tag—I've continued to argue that fiction, written close to the bone, will likely provide the reader with a deeper look into the life and soul of the writer, but more important, the reader if the story is worth his time.

Think first of this question, one that I pose to myself for purposes of this essay: Do you think self-revelation is part of the process of writing?

My answer: Any serious writer who denies it, lies.

I agree with David Shields who argues in favor of self-revelation and to a large extent against the novel that is not self-revelatory. He does so in Reality Hunger through a series of quotes, occasionally his own—unabashedly without full attribution (but that's another story) using only the name of the writer. Here's John Berger, "Authenticity comes from a single faithfulness: that to the ambiguity of experience." And later, the late David Foster Wallace, "I don't know what it's like inside you and you don't know what it's like inside me. A great book allows me to leap over that wall: in a deep, significant conversation with another consciousness, I feel human and unalone." **

A serious writer can't help but reveal even as the lie of fiction operates

Oops! This image does not follow our content guidelines. To continue publishing, please remove it or upload a different image.

A serious writer can't help but reveal even as the lie of fiction operates.

Lee K. Abbott, a writer and teacher I know and admire, has put the issue succinctly this way: "All stories are true stories, especially the artful lies we invent to satisfy the wishful thinker in us, for they present to us, in disguise often and at great distance, the way we are or would want to be." ****

My collection of short stories The Woman Who Never Cooked includes three memoir pieces I don't identify and I will use them here to explain why I argue that the fiction is more powerful, more truthful, if you will, than the so-called true story. Three of the stories can be read here on Wattpad: The title story "The Woman Who Never Cooked" "The Burglar" and "Rugalach"—just search or go to my profile. Second edition of this collection of connected short stories is now available on Amazon or the publisher's bookstore at a discount: see eternal link.

First, I give as example a comparison of what is essentially the same story told in fiction and also in memoir.

I put aside my novel Who by Fire that was close to finished when my husband said after 22 years of marriage, oh-so-Greta-Garbo, "I need to live alone."

This event stopped me in my tracks—and eventually I blogged my life while I was living it. That blog turned into the memoir (Re)Making Love that you may read right here on Wattpad—and it won a 2014 Watty Award.

Writing TipsRead this story for FREE!