Autobiography: Will Yours be Fact or fiction?

What kind of autobiography are you going to write? Fact or fiction? I’ve been thinking about this issue, as the main protagonist in my current W.I.P, Under the Bed,  is writing an autobiography set mostly during the McCarthy years. Her dilemma is what “truths” to include and which to omit.

Memory consolidation

Memory consolidation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


If the book is an autobiography rather than a posthumous biography, then one key factor is going to be memory.  Try discussing a long ago event with someone close, and you will almost certainly find you both have a completely different recollection of what happened, or even where it happened.

Even without deliberate intent, memory is the most unreliable witness to our lives.
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Truth or Dare

Autobiographies tend to be either serious works, or tell all. I’m dividing them into the categories of Truth (Seriously, it’s all true)  or Dare (I Dare you read this ” tell all” book) They both have their place and both fulfil different needs, just like different  genres in fiction.  The author’s all carefully chose what to include. Sometimes what’s been omitted might have given a more realistic insight. But who am I to say? Like any history, peoples lives are open to interpretation.

Behind the Lights: Music and Movie Stars

Music and movie stars lives are often filled with drama and tragedy. Some have more than most. Tammy Wynette and Liz Taylor both spring to mind.  Tammy Wynette’s autobiography Stand By Your Man, touches not only on her singing career, but also the abuse she received at the hands of her ex-husband George Jones. So while the style was light reading the subject matter was not. So, Truth or Dare?

Tammy Wynette - The Best Of

Tammy Wynette – The Best Of (Photo credit: Piano Piano!)

Elizabeth Taylor’s autobiography, was definitely under the “Dare to Tell All’ category. ( Forgive me, I don’t recall the title of the one I read in the early ‘90s). But aside from the trail of husbands, Liz Taylor’s life was also filled with ill-health and endless surgeries. Despite all she went through, she became a great champion of AIDS awareness and fundraising. Despite the “tell-all” nature of the book, it was both entertaining and interesting to hear about her marriages and how her life changed both because and in spite of them.

English: Studio publicity portrait of the Amer...

English: Studio publicity portrait of the American actress Elizabeth Taylor. Français : Portrait publicitaire pris en studio de l’actrice américaine Elizabeth Taylor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Door Stop Autobiography

Why do people feel the need to give every last detail? The doorstop autobiography that comes to mind is My Life, Bill Clinton’s autobiography published shortly after he left office. The man has certainly led an interesting life, and I loved all the photo’s he included , especially the ones of he and Hillary in their university days. But you would think with all the people the man knows, and has influence with, that a good editor would be on his list. And that’s the truth…. 1008 pages?…. Really?

Look into My Soul Autobiography

Speaking of presidents, I read and really enjoyed President Obama’s Biography – Dreams from My Father. This was back in those heady days of being thrilled Bush was out, inspired by America electing its first African-American president, and hope was still alive. It was a readable length, and truly interesting from the perspective of where the man had come from.

Dreams from My Father

Dreams from My Father (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What made it even more valuable, was it had been written in 1995, years before Obama became President, so it was not the self aggrandizing work it would have been if penned after the election. Rather, it showed an optimism for a better world, from the perspective of a young man trying to make sense of his heritage. It rang true with me.

 Multiple View Points.

This to me is the best kind of Biography. The only one I’ve read where this has been done effectively was about the painter Jackson Pollock: To A Violent Grave by Jeffrey Potter. The method the author used leaves “the truth” to be decided by the reader. It’s a group of interviews with people who knew Pollock . Aside from being a fascinating look at the beginning of the abstract expressionist movement in New York in the 1950s at a time when the Hamptons were a little known artist enclave, it gives the reader completely different perspectives on events in the artist’s life. It touches not only on his painting, but his alcoholism and his relationship with his wife Lee Krasner. She was an artist in her own right, but her own career was  eclipsed by the looming presence of Jackson Pollock. Frankly the guy seemed like a total jerk, but I can’t deny his innovative process which changed the landscape of experimental painting back in the day.

So of all these I mention  – how many of them are true? And how much is the style in which they are written  geared to a particular market? If the latter is the case, then does that make supposedly non-fiction works so very different from fiction?

Do you feel the autobiographies you have read have been fact or fiction? What will your autobiography be like? Truth or Dare?

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