"The trick, as with all aspects of memoir, is to use the tools of fiction writing to be true to each character’s voice. . ."
The Lonely Writer’s Companion: “Can I Make Up Dialogue in My Memoir?”
This month, we’re initiating a new format for The Lonely Writer’s Companion—a Q & A. It’s simple: You send in your questions, and each month I’ll select one to answer. Email your questions to email@example.com.
The Lonely Writer responds: Unless you’re a latter-day Richard Nixon, it’s unlikely you recorded every (or any) conversation you’ll recreate in your memoir. It’s a given of the genre that the story you tell is yours, told from your point of view, and that others who were there will have their own particular recollection of events. It follows that, unless you’ve got echoic memory, the dialogue in your memoir will be your recollection of what was said, not the actual words that were spoken. The trick, as with all aspects of memoir, is to use the tools of fiction writing to be true to each character’s voice, and to use dialogue to reveal character, keep your story moving, and add texture to your scenes. Think of the dialogue between Liz Gilbert and Richard the Texan in Eat, Pray, Love. They’re not verbatim recordings, but rather two distinct voices that bring the scenes these two share to life while at the same time keep readers turning pages.
Not every word of a conversation needs to be included in dialogue, only those that reveal characters and their relationships, and make scenes vivid. So rather than think of the dialogue in your memoir as “made up,” think of it as true to both the voices you’re recreating and the emotional truth of the original conversation.
PEN-short-listed author Lisa Lenard-Cook’s most recent book is Find Your Story, Write Your Memoir (University of Wisconsin Press), which she co-authored with Lynn C. Miller, with whom she co-founded of ABQ Writers Co-op (abqwriterscoop.com), creating community in New Mexico for writers everywhere. She's an editor of the literary magazine bosque, on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, and the Board of Narrative Arts Center in Santa Fe. Website: lisalenardcook.com\