Hello, SE readers. In my prior post, I wrote about inspiration. Today I continue along that same path and compare how one experience might spark inspiration for either a memoir or a novel.
In a sense, all writing is fiction because memory is never totally accurate. For example, when police consider the accounts of everyone at an accident scene, the differences are notable. Even the most obvious detail, such as the color of the cars, can vary wildly. The smaller details, of license plate numbers or the year and make of the car, are rarely consistent.
Perhaps a simple story will help clarify my point. Here goes. Imagine sitting at an outside table of a busy neighborhood bar. There is much laughter as toasts are offered, drinks held high. Then suddenly everything changes.
Two cars collide in front of the bar. When the police arrive, most folks have dispersed but some customers remain. Lovers huddle a few feet from the collision. They tremble and hold each other tightly. When the police question them, they only remember the loud crash and the screams. They talk about being afraid, they ask about the victims, and they mention—more than once—that it was just an ordinary day.
The two men standing near the cars were having a drink with their friends when the accident occurred. One tells the police officer that he saw a rapidly moving vehicle and yelled loudly, “QUICK. RUN!” No one saw the impact, but they heard it as they ducked indoors. After the hit, these two men ran to help the drivers. They report seeing massive amounts of blood, hearing moans, and calling 911.
One driver is motionless behind an airbag. He is able to speak but has multiple injuries and cannot move. He tells the officer that he was hit broadside by a car that never stopped for the red light.
The driver of the other car is unconscious. She is put on life support and rushed to the hospital. When she awakens later in the day, she only remembers her husband yelling at her. She whispers to the police that she had gotten into the car, stepped on the accelerator, and fled. “I kept thinking, I gotta reach mom before he comes after me. I gotta reach her.” She remembers nothing of the accident.
Though the above example is extreme, the fact is we process information from our unique vantage point, which is more complex than just eyesight.
If the female victim were to write a memoir and include the above scene, she would need to reconstruct the accident from second-hand information. On the other hand, if she were to write a novel and use the same scene, she’d have much more freedom.
Let’s look at both possibilities through a series of photos.
In the first, the memoirist cannot breathe, she struggles against the hands that hit her. Alternatively, the novelist creates a protagonist who is a hiker. He climbs high into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where he encounters and fights a vicious wolf.
In the first story, the attacker is incarcerated. In the novel, the wolf is captured and put in a zoo.
In the memoir, the writer tells of finding healing through friendships, gardening and yoga. In her novel, the protagonist learns to walk again. In both, the ending is one of recovery.
One life-threatening event can inspire two very different stories. The writer chooses the genre and decides whether to fictionalize the event or not. Either way, the task is to capture the emotional truth. A memoir is an introspective approach, but a novel, inspired by the same event, will carry similar emotional depth — in this example, wrapped in a wildlife adventure.
Have you felt inspired to write about something personal and considered the possibility of a memoir or a novel? Have you ever wondered about some of the characters in your friend’s novel — if they were really fictional?
I’d love to hear about your choices — and your thoughts about your friend’s characters.