Writing a Fictionalized Memoir, Part 3


For writers who do not invent dialogue, or make up events, or combine characters, but who do fictionalize details, a third category is necessary. If the writer tells the truth about events that actually occurred, uses genuine dialogue, and only changes details such as dates, names of places and people and their appearances, an appropriate designation would be a Fictionalized Memoir.

I came up with this definition because I needed a way to categorize my second edition of Angel Hero, published in October 2015. In the book, I changed the details of Who, When, and Where to protect people’s identities, but I did not change the events or the dialogue, or create composite characters or events, or anything else that would require me to call this version Based on a True Story as defined in the previous post. Angel Hero is a true story. (My first edition, published in April, 2014, was disguised as an inspired-by-a-true-story novel.)

Standard Two: Based on a True Story

How do you determine if a memoir is based on a true story? Posing the following questions to the author would determine the answer:

  1. Are there any fictional characters or settings or scenes in your memoir? 2. Are there any composite characters? 3. Have you combined events? 4. Did you add any significant element to the story that you or someone else know to be untrue? If the answer is yes to any of these, your work is fictional (a novel, a novelette, a short story, a screenplay) and based on a true story.

Standard Three: Authors and Libel

At the very least, each memoir needs a one-page author’s declaration that precedes the narrative. “About The Book” should describe in detail the standards and methods used to tell the story. Any author embarrassed to reveal his bag of tricks should think twice about whether he is willing to risk lawsuits, jail, defamation, or all three.

Authors can be sued for libel. Libel is defined as written defamation. Defamation means a false statement, made with malice (reckless disregard for the truth), which damages the person about whom it is made. Even if the identity of that person is disguised, as long as they’re recognizable, the author can be sued for libel. Slander, another form of defamation, is verbal rather than written.

In 2014, shortly after Angel Hero was published, I asked an entertainment lawyer to read my book so I could be sure it wasn’t libelous. (He said it was not, and gave me a five star review on Amazon.)