Novel versus a memoir?

The other day I was talking to an individual who was working on a memoir and he asked “Why did you write a novel instead of a memoir?” Hmmmmm….. No one ever asked me that before.

Since I am rarely at a loss for words, written or spoken, I gave him what I thought were three good reasons. The first one was that I didn’t have to worry about how accurately I told the tale my life and how it related to others.

The second reason was that I could let the story be told by the characters and could play fast and loose with the facts. While I start with an outline, I “play” my character as I am writing and quite often, the actual text doesn’t follow the outline. I pride myself in being technically accurate and historically in context but what I write, after all, will be part of a novel.

By the way, editors often criticize my work because it has too much technical information. For example, I like including historical tidbits and facts about a piece of equipment. For example, if one of the characters was using a 9mm Browning Hi-Power semi automatic pistol, I’d want to weave into the story that the character liked the Hi-Power because it was the last gun that John Browning, the famous gun designer was working on when he died in 1927. What might also appear in the story was that character liked the Hi-Power because it was a proven, battle tested weapon that entered production in 1935 and is the first semi-automatic pistol with a double stack magazine (now known as a high capacity magazine) that enabled it to hold sixteen rounds. For the record, the design is so good that they’re still being built by FN Herstal in Belgium. Just before its introduction, FN’s engineers reduced the capacity of the prototype’s sixteen round magazines to thirteen in the production versions.

To some, this type of information is very interesting, to others, it is boring. So, finding a balance is the hard part because you have to have enough detail in the story to make it credible but also no too much to lose the reader.

But, I digress. The third reason was covering my skinny rear. One assumes that when reading a memoir, the author was trying to be as factual as possible. My fear is that some government type who has the pieces of paper with my signature on them that cleared me for some top secret, specially compartmented, code word intelligence might be more than annoyed if I inadvertently used a code word that I shouldn’t have. Under deep hypnosis, I might remember them, but I’ve had more than one adult beverage and slept since those days and my memory ain’t as good as it use to be.

Anyway, it was an interesting question and I thought I would share my answer…

Marc Liebman