“How Much of a Memoir Should Be True?” by D.G. Kaye

It was a pleasure having Linda Gray Sexton writing a guest post for us under the topic “How Much of a Memoir Should Be True?”

Today, you are getting an opportunity to read the guest post from D.G. Kaye on “How Much of a Memoir Should Be True?”. We hope you enjoy reading her guest post and we welcome you to share your opinions below.

D.G. Kaye


Writing in memoir is recognized as a factual accounting of a story, people and places. Memoirs are personal recollections of memories based on a theme, constructed into a story, as experienced by the author. The author is required to tell the story to the best of his/her recollection; as he/she remembers the incidents. This doesn’t negate the fact that there are memoirs written as fiction, but a true nonfiction memoir as stated, should always be factual.

If any of the elements in a nonfiction memoir are altered or expanded, for the purpose of adding drama to spice up the story, then it is no longer truth and should be classified as fiction, or at least noted in the Afterword of a book.

There is also the matter of a grey area, an issue about some authors changing names or professions of characters to maintain anonymity for those people in their books for their characters whom don’t wish to be exploited publicly. Some will say that if names are changed the story is not true. I don’t agree with that belief. I feel that if we keep a story true and concise to actual events, changing the names of characters to protect their identity does not take away from the truth of the story.

Another common question asked about memoirs is, what constitutes truth? One person’s recollection of memory is often perceived differently than a close family member’s own recollection. The impact that situations have on each individual person are often interpreted differently according to each character’s personal experience concerning the story. This doesn’t negate the truth. The author recants a story as they remember it, and tells about how it has affected him or her personally. It is still a memoir from the author’s point of view of his/her own personal perspective.

OXFORD DICTIONARY DEFINITION:  A historical account or biography written from personal knowledge or special sources.

MERRIAM WEBSTER DEFINITION:  A written account of someone or something that is usually based on personal knowledge of the subject.

There has been controversy in the past, where writers had been accused of sensationalizing stories and calling them memoirs. The repercussions can invite public humiliation when they are condemned for fraudulent writing. The bottom line is that the whole story—events, people, locations, should be true.

I will emphasize again that by changing a character’s name to protect his or her privacy, doesn’t take away the truth of the story, nor does it alter the storyline. Other than the author extending the courtesy of privacy protection, I believe everything else in a memoir should be authentic.


D.G. Kaye


14 thoughts on ““How Much of a Memoir Should Be True?” by D.G. Kaye

  1. Great post Debbie! In memoir, “the author recants a story as they remember it.” Yes! A memoir emphasizes “emotional” truth, which is from the writer’s perspective, and reflects how the experience affected the writer. I like the way Maya Angelou said it, facts often obscure the truth (paraphrased). Really enjoying this biography/memoir series. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on Memoir Notes.


  3. This was a great post and I agree with Debby entirely about the use of names. I’ve changed every name in my memoir (including abusers) except for my own and two others that I have their permission. For me, the story and the message I want to share with others, is the important thing. I have nothing to gain by stirring things up with the use of real names. Thanks Debby and Jassie for this series!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I agree with the part about changing names to protect a person’s identity. The truth of a story is by no means altered by changing a person’s name for a good reason.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I enjoyed this piece very much. It cleared up some questions I had about some name changes I had done in a memoir for the purpose of protecting identity. Thank you so much.

    Liked by 2 people

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