Question of the day:
I see this all the time:
"A novel based on her experience," "Inspired by a true story," "Names and identifying features have been changed..."
My question is, how much has to be changed? A few details? Major plotlines? Names and places and hair color?
I'm in the midst of writing a memoir. I've changed the names because it enables me to write about my characters, not the people I know. How much would have to be fiction for the book to be fiction -- if I'd like to pitch it that way? I'd never fall into James Frey territory.
And I know writers, agents and publishers have different opinions.
Just curious for yours.
I'm not an expert and I don't write memoirs, so I can only offer my opinion, which, obviously, counts for squat. But I loved this question and think it opens up a good debate/discussion, so I wanted to post it right away. (Trish Ryan, who has a memoir coming out next year, might want to weigh in.)
My inclination is that, in the day and age of James Frey, that you should adhere as closely as possible to the details. Changing names is understandable, and in some cases, advisable, as litigation is always a possibility if you paint a less than flattering picture of someone. A few details? Hair color? I don't think anyone will complain, especially because so many memoirs, like Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg, now offer caveats that, "ahem, this is written from the best of my memory and some dates/situations/people might have changed."
But I'd steer clear of creating fictitious major plot lines because, well, then, like Frey's book (which, not for nothing, I enjoyed a lot), it becomes fiction. I do think that there's a category for this type of book called "creative non-fiction," but from what I understand (and this could have changed as of late), these are tough sells for agents. Editors/publishers either want memoirs (which are already tough sells - make sure that yours highlights something unique) or they want fiction. Period. Either or.
Besides, the whole point of writing a memoir is that you have an incredibly interesting story to tell, one that's specific and unique to you. If you have to change it so drastically, maybe it's not a story you should be telling...
But that's just my initial inclination. What say you, readers?