Scatter Plotting the Truth of Memoir (With Pretty Pictures)

September 2, 2011 § 2 Comments


Amaris Ketcham, a regular blogger over at Bark, has a fresh response to Ben Yagoda’s possibly facetious scale for determining the “truth” of a memoir. We were charmed by her wit, but then she made our heads spin by plotting a truthfulness chart with clouds and a star and a moon, followed by a tasty pie chart of falsehoods, and a scatter plot of Deceit vs. Craft Vs.Tricks vs. Belief. A case of extremus graphicus, surely. But the pictures are just so wonderful, we had to point the way.

Here’s an except following by our usual link to the source:

I’ve always disliked the debate over whether a memoir has to be 100% factual. Sure, I understand that no one wants to read a memoir that’s completely fabricated and only sold as a memoir for marketing. But applying any kind of coherent structure or narrative to the past is fictionalizing it. Truth and fact aren’t the same things–Truth is more important than Fact. Well, you know both sides of the debate. I decided to put my writing to the test with their scale. Here’s what I my graph looked like: As you can see, something screwy happened when I plotted out my writing according to it’s factuality. After deducting some points for all the fake names that people had given themselves and I had recorded as their names (look, if you call yourself Rookie Foolery, I’m not going to write you as “Kevin”) some more points for not fact-checking details (was it sunny that day in New Mexico? who knows? can I make an educated guess?), and some points for dialogue, I added some points for establishing a contract with the reader up front and making fun of the character that was Younger Me without deprecating other characters. Then I plotted out some clouds and a star and a moon, connected it all to some mountains and town in the foothills. Dammit. I couldn’t help adding a scene.

Read the Entire Scatter Plot Blog Entry here.

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§ 2 Responses to Scatter Plotting the Truth of Memoir (With Pretty Pictures)

  • Once again, we are reminded that memoirs are not a historical rendering, they are story telling. Thank you Amaris Ketcham. I used dialogue and scenes freely in my soon-to-be-published memoir. My goal was to immerse the reader in the world of southern tent revivals, to have her “hear” the voices that were so unique and so strange in my childhood that fifty years later they still echo. I did not fabricate events, but I did embroider remnants of dialogue and sermon, usually with other recalled bits and pieces. I remind the reader on occasion that I am telling her a story, based on the imperfection of memory and the stories recounted by others through the years. Have we become so enamored of hard edged facts, that we want all of our stories to conform to a standard to which no other writers in history have adhered? I’ll leave it to the historians to get every fact right, that’s their business after all. Tis a poetic truth I’m after.

  • Leaving it to the historians to ” to get every fact right”? Um, maybe you should reconsider.

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