Soon after we begin writing our personal stories in earnest, we all bump into the issue of not remembering or having access to certain necessary details. For the most conscientious writers, this can become a quagmire of delay and conflict. At minimum, it spurs frustration and doubt. If that isn’t enough, there’s also the issue of each of us remembering our shared history differently, so others may disagree with our rendition.
To help sort it out, I like the advice offered by Bill Roorbach in Writing Life Stories: “To me the first goal, the first excellence, is artistic. The needs of other excellences, such as accuracy, must follow the needs of [storytelling] in a kind of hierarchy that helps me make decisions as I write.”
Yes, it is a story after all, and there is an element of caricature in every good story. Caricature requires a distillation of the prominent traits of a personality, scene, or era. For example, I might remember Aunt Rose as lively, and heighten that quality in a story by filling in missing detail with plausible substitutes. My brother, however, saw her as cranky and melodramatic, and calls me out for getting it wrong.
So, when you fall into this inevitable quandary, remember it is first a story — and it’s your story first, middle, and last.