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    Telling the “Truth” in Memoirs

    We've seen the success of scandalous memoirs such as the tell-all by Bernard Madoff's mistress, or the sensational weirdness of Augusten Burrough's powerful memoir, Running With Scissors. Sometimes the people we meet at Stories To Tell workshops will ask, “How much truth should I tell in writing my memoir? Would some dramatic secrets from my life make my book more exciting and interesting?”

    I advise them, “It’s up to you.” Your life story most likely had its traumatic moments and dark secrets. They may feel uncomfortable or difficult to talk about. Do you have to include them in your memoir? No. Should you?

    One way to make decisions is to imagine every person who will read your book. Would you be comfortable revealing the information to them face to face? Is that what you want? If not, just don’t include it.

    Consider these questions before revealing painful truths:

    • Is the truth necessary to tell your larger story?

    • Will the story hurt anyone if you bring it out in the open?

    • Was it common knowledge at the time it happened?

    • Does it deliberately vilify someone? Does your telling the story show malice or spite?

    • Is it fair to all concerned?

    • Are you telling the story only for its sensational value?

    • Are people in the story still alive? Can you talk to them about it?

    • How will it affect any children involved?

    • What will be gained if you include it?

    • What will be lost if you omit it from your story?

    Ernest Hemmingway, in the preface to his memoir, A Moveable Feast, offers us a good guideline. He wrote, “For reasons sufficient to the author, many places, people, observations and impressions have been left out of this book.”

    -Biff Barnes

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