Check your facts and then recheck them again. Didn’t someone say that? Anyway, it’s my new mantra when it comes to reporting events.
My apologies to anyone who went to the UA bookstore the day before yesterday looking for the Random Obsessions book tour. It had been on my calendar for a few months and I was excited about it so I announced it on this blog. But, when I got there I found out that the author had canceled. I see now that I should have made, and will in the future, a simple phone call to confirm.
What about checking the facts in a personal story? If you’re telling a story about when you were spending the night at your aunt Jenny’s house and was awakened in the middle of the night to the fire alarm and had to climb out the window into the waiting arms of a fire fighter and that was the first time you met your significant other, do you have to accurately report if it was 2 a.m. or 3 a.m.? Or if the room was at the back or side of the house?
Obviously certain facts are essential to the telling and others are insignificant and can be approximated to complete the story. Have you ever heard someone tell a story and hear them engage in a memory fight with themselves in the middle of it – “it was in 1967 – no, it was ’68 – oh no, I remember that I was wearing my blue nightgown and I got that nightgown for my 16th birthday so it must have been 67 – or maybe it was a different nightgown . . .” We’ve all heard this (and probably done it!) and it really interrupts the flow of the story. And, unless the date is crucial to the story, i.e. if it was tied to a historical event, who cares exactly which year it was (except, perhaps, your significant other).
Sometimes the need to be precise inhibits us in telling our personal stories when the most important thing is to share the emotional impact of the story. I’m not advocating passing off fiction as fact, I’m suggesting that the meaning should take over as the most important thing rather than the color of the nightgown. Supply lots of details so that the listener can visualize the scene and, if you can’t readily remember, make your nightgown blue so that you can move along in the story line.
I’ve found that telling a “true” story is relative. My memory of a an event from childhood can be very different than my sister’s remembrance. We each saw it from our unique point of view and who’s to say which one of us has the truest story.
I think that fiction is making it all up BUT facts + a little enhancement is a good story.
What do you think? Is embellishing a story OK? When is embellishment straying from the truth? Would our personal stories be totally flat if we didn’t add the zest of imagination?