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Journalism vs. Memoir 

Over at the WriterL listserv, members are debating the difference between memoir and nonfiction. WriterL-ers are dedicated journalists, always concerned with truth, but seeking to present their facts in ways that readers find compelling (typically through narrative stories). But their work sometimes collides in readers' minds with the hugely popular book market for memoir, and some memoirists play a little loosely with the facts.

There are plenty of memoirs that, in a different publishing market 30 years ago, would have been called autobiographical fiction. There are others whose authors say that in going for an emotional truth, they didn't particularly worry about the factuality of any specific event or utterance. And of course there are memoirs in which the author has scrupulously, to the best of his or her ability, tried to depict what happened.

But the first two categories drive some of us nonfiction writers crazy. We believe that a powerful component of our stories is that they are actually true. This stuff really happened. And we worked pretty hard to both get it right and pull the meaningful narrative out of it. How can we get readers to appreciate that? More on this discussion soon.

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