10 Ways to Embellish Your Memoir: The Slightly Untrue Truth

Autofiction, or a fictionalized version of memoir, is a wonderful way to share your experiences without raw exposure, betraying privacy, or causing undue vulnerability.

Additionally, autofiction is not a function of political legislation. Go ahead and twist the truth. Readers of fiction do not require entirely true events to appreciate the spirit of a good story. Thus, everyone wins.

There are a number of ways to embellish your memories, and this list is only a sample of our inexhaustible options:

  1. Amalgamations, or Additional Characters:

    I like to add people who weren’t really there, or combine the qualities of more than one person into a single melded character.

  2. Hyperbole:

    It is great fun to exaggerate unimportant details, as I did in a recent story, where the striking apparel in a shopping mall was entirely fabricated (no pun intended). One ensemble was glorified in texture, color, and style.

  3. Infuse a lighter side:

    In Tim O’Brien’s questionably fictional The Things They Carried, there is a chapter called “Spin”. In this otherwise grim and startling Vietnam War saga, O’Brien shares the day-to-day moments of peace, beauty, and camaraderie among the soldiers. An emotional swing will effectively drive home the unpredictable shifts to come.

  4. Flashback/Flash-forward or Narration within a Narration:

    In Larry Watson’s fictional Montana, 1948, a school teacher shares a story from the lens of his former boyhood. This establishes the reliability of his matured wisdom with his earlier innocence and curious eavesdropping.

  5. Internal Monologue:

    The story pauses for the private thoughts of the first-person narrator, generating a sense of secrecy with the reader. Readers form a bond with the narrator through empathy and increased information. Consider when a movie character looks into the camera to engage the audience unbeknownst to other characters.  

  6. Imagined Dialogue:

    A pretend conversation occurs between two characters in the mind of the narrator, with someone who is actually present, or with someone absent in the midst of current events. A character might imagine what he wishes he had said, or prepares for what he intends to say soon. A character might have a chat with a ghost of her dead wife.

  7. Surrealism or Dream States: A realistic story suddenly turns temporarily weird via psychosis, drugs, paranormal events, sleep, or coma. In Chavisa Woods’ series of short fiction What to Do When You’re Goth in the Country and Other Short Stories, small green orbs enter the scene and later gain focused control of the otherwise mundane characters. The narrator gives little explanation, forcing the reader to surrender to the unexpected oddity. The tone is purposefully ambiguous and nonchalant as well.
  8. Incidentals:

    Adding details separate from the necessary plot, such as other shoppers in the mall, an unnamed kid at a party, or the food served at a dinner party. These details provide believable complexity; world-building pulls the reader into the story.

  9. Escalation:

    These sensory details build the energy of the scene via a storm, or a driver with loud music, or kids running thru the house, splashing water, police sirens, car lights, even total silence to increase tension, momentum, or suspense.

  10. Resolution:

    Provide an ideal or extended aftermath, the long-term outcome of major characters, real world and related statistics, ongoing legal battles, political impacts, etc.

Give autofiction a whirl! Add some whimsy or shadow to your otherwise true story! Work your wyrd!  Fictionalized memory frees us from responsibility for partially true events.

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