Central to the definition of creative nonfiction is the idea of truth. At the beginning of the semester our class discussed the distinction between creative nonfiction and fiction. The line is fine, surely. Can we invent dialogue that conveys the general idea of a conversation? How much liberty can we take in generating composite characters? How far can we manipulate the truth to get our point across before we are lying?
Writing creative nonfiction often jolts me into an understanding of how far my memories can deviate from actual events, and the role that I play in that transformation. I realize, when I begin to write about a memory, how frequently and easily I distort the truth. I find myself telling stories about my night out, my semester, and my childhood that deviate from what I actually remember in small ways. I do this so that my mother won’t worry or so that my friends will think that I am more fun. Without changing anything substantial about the events that occur, I can generate different truths about my life. This shaping of memory does not occur without consequence.
My best friend studied abroad last semester, and she worries that resuming her previous life at Geneseo makes it easy to forget her experiences abroad. “I tell the same stories over and over, and that is what I remember,” she told me. “And I’m probably changing it every time I say it. What happens to the other things?”
She is coming to a realization that creative nonfiction demands—our ideas about the world and about our selves are not the product of every event that has ever happened to us. Instead we select, edit, draw conclusions from, and write about a smattering of memories from the broad scope of our personal histories.
The question of what constitutes truth in creative nonfiction remains. Are we lying to ourselves and to readers when we write about these amended memories? Are these standout memories, revised as they may be, a true representation of what has gotten us to the place that we write from?