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    Immagination and Truth in Memoir and Family History

    A well told story is built with a wealth of details. As is axiomatic among writers it shows rather than tells what happened. Setting is carefully described. Actions are traced in detail to allow the reader to see exactly what is happening. Dialogue brings the scene to life allowing the reader to hear what the characters said. These details allow the reader to experience the emotions that the characters were feeling as the events described unfolded.

    Unfortunately, most of us don’t remember stories that way. We remember the Cliff Notes version, a summary of what happened. As we try to capture a story in a memoir or family history, we can work at remembering. Maybe some of the details are there, somewhere in the recesses of our memory. But many are not.

    This is where it’s okay to draw upon imagination. For example, if you want to recreate a conversation that occurred years ago or maybe one you have only heard about from relatives as a part of their stories you won’t know exactly what was said. To tell the story vividly you have to imagine what the participants would have said and recreate the dialogue.

    What constitutes “truth” in recounting stories is that you use your imagination to get the emotion and meaning of what happened right rather than being bound by the need to report only the limited factual details that you know or can recall.

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