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Embellishing Stories in my Book
Old 02-12-2014, 11:02 AM   #1
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Embellishing Stories in my Book

I'm working on my book entitled:

Drive, Ride, Repeat
The Mostly-True Account of a Cross-Country Car and Bicycle Adventure

I include stories from my past, and I am embellishing some to make them more amusing. For example, here is one story:
A few years ago, I needed advice on setting up payroll for my company, and drove down to my accountant’s office and spoke with his assistant. It was an informal small-town operation — the kind with overstuffed chairs, worn rugs, and an office dog. A few weeks after this meeting, I called and said “Hi, I have some questions about the payroll system, could I please speak to Sadie?” Unfortunately, I hadn’t really paid attention to the names, and it turned out that Sadie was the name of the office dog. They got a big kick out of that, and now, whenever I show up there, they whistle for Sadie, in case I want to ask her about stock options or retirement plans.
The two changes I made are:

1. This actually happened to Lena, not to me. I changed it to being about me so that she won't be embarrassed.

2. I added "whenever I show up there, they whistle for Sadie, in case I want to ask her about stock options or retirement plans." That didn't happen, but it makes the story funnier.

I think it's reasonable to make those changes. People on the writing forum disagree.

What do you think?
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Old 02-12-2014, 11:08 AM   #2
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Your title says "Mostly-True". That provides all the latitude you need to lie like a rug.
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Old 02-12-2014, 11:09 AM   #3
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The subtitle is "Mostly True..." so I'd say that qualifies. And after all, it's not like you are writing a documentary of something of specific historical importance where facts would really matter. It sounds more like just a general story that people might find interesting.

Are the people on the writing forum aware of the sub title?

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Old 02-12-2014, 11:17 AM   #4
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No, they are not aware of the subtitle, and I can't tell them because the thread is closed.

I would think that even without the subtitle, I agree with you: "it's not like you are writing a documentary of something of specific historical importance where facts would really matter."
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Old 02-12-2014, 11:38 AM   #5
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And if you want to re-enforce the point, you could refer to some of these quotes from Mark Twain in the intro, essentially saying that his memory is so good, he sometimes is able to remember things that never even happened!


Mark Twain quotations - Memory

BTW, I like the embellishment.


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Old 02-12-2014, 11:46 AM   #6
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That's funny - it's a pretty good description of my accountant's office too - except it's not an informal small-town operation, being located in Los Angeles. The office dogs and casual atmosphere are part of the attraction for me.

It's an interesting question. I had always assumed that the first-person accounts I read in these kinds of books are true. Had never considered the possibility of embellishments. As others have said, the phrase "mostly true" in the title probably covers you. I suppose the rest depends on whether it sits well with you, the author.
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Old 02-12-2014, 11:54 AM   #7
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As an indication of the casual/irreverent atmosphere in my accountant's office, this sign is on the wall of the waiting room -

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Old 02-12-2014, 01:12 PM   #8
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Thought Twain had said something along the lines of the truth being so precious it should be used sparingly. Mostly true will do.
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Old 02-12-2014, 01:21 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TromboneAl View Post
I'm working on my book entitled:

Drive, Ride, Repeat
The Mostly-True Account of a Cross-Country Car and Bicycle Adventure

I include stories from my past, and I am embellishing some to make them more amusing. For example, here is one story:
A few years ago, I needed advice on setting up payroll for my company, and drove down to my accountant’s office and spoke with his assistant. It was an informal small-town operation — the kind with overstuffed chairs, worn rugs, and an office dog. A few weeks after this meeting, I called and said “Hi, I have some questions about the payroll system, could I please speak to Sadie?” Unfortunately, I hadn’t really paid attention to the names, and it turned out that Sadie was the name of the office dog. They got a big kick out of that, and now, whenever I show up there, they whistle for Sadie, in case I want to ask her about stock options or retirement plans.
The two changes I made are:

1. This actually happened to Lena, not to me. I changed it to being about me so that she won't be embarrassed.

2. I added "whenever I show up there, they whistle for Sadie, in case I want to ask her about stock options or retirement plans." That didn't happen, but it makes the story funnier.

I think it's reasonable to make those changes. People on the writing forum disagree.

What do you think?
I disagree. Whenever I get the slightest inkling that non-fiction has a very indefinite border with fiction, I do not buy and this will never change. OTOH if it is clear that you are attempting to write humor a la David Sedaris, I would say you can make up or embellish anything you wish. And who tells the truth on a dating site? Only people who will never get a date.

IMO, this sort of fuzzy border is actually dishonest, though very common. Remember the WP author who did some heart-rending profile of "someone", who turned out to be completely fictional? Basically, this stuff has cured any interest I ever had in reading "human interest" stories. Same with retirement blogs and books- mostly fiction, because reality cannot compete with all the fantasy out there.

Ha
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Old 02-12-2014, 01:25 PM   #10
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Are you trying to supplement your income with the book? Then, more embellishment, the better.

Along that line, better attention grabbing title, the better. Also, try having a very impressive sounding pen name.
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Old 02-12-2014, 01:30 PM   #11
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I am OK with what you wrote, but you can be a bit more honest without changing it much...


You can say "every time I go to their office I think they are going to...."...

Or, 'they look at me like they are going to....'....
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Old 02-12-2014, 01:37 PM   #12
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Great suggestions Texas Proud.
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Old 02-12-2014, 01:56 PM   #13
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Great suggestions Texas Proud.
or

They got a big kick out of that, and now, whenever I show up there, I can expect a whistle to Sadie for my next investing tip.
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Old 02-12-2014, 02:30 PM   #14
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Embellish away, it isn't an autobiography. People like funny stories.
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Old 02-12-2014, 02:42 PM   #15
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You could change "I" to "we" and the story still works. Or "one of us" shouldn't embarrass Lena.

And good suggestion about not saying the staff really whistles for Sadie but we imagine them doing so.

For this kind of book I would try not to embellish actual events unless you embellish all of them and make it a work of fiction based on your life. Your posts here are entertaining enough as they actually happened and your writing style contributes to them. You could always stick in parenthetical fantasy comments about some things as they might have happened, I guess.

There are some good books on Amazon about writing creative nonfiction.
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Old 02-12-2014, 03:52 PM   #16
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I was watching American Masterpiece about Harper Lee and Truman Capote and one of the author interviewed (I think it was Scott Turow) said something apropos.

All writers start with the truth and then lie like crazy*


*Actually that isn't what Turow said but my version is better.
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Old 02-12-2014, 04:01 PM   #17
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or

They got a big kick out of that, and now, whenever I show up there, I can expect a whistle to Sadie for my next investing tip.
If we are trying to move closer to 'the honest truth' (though I still do not feel it's needed in this case, JMO), think I'd go with Texas Proud's suggestions to word it as if you 'imagine' they might be thinking that, or along those lines.

The quote above almost strikes me as more dishonest, not less. I'm sure kgtest didn't mean it this way, but when I read "I can expect", does that mean 'I expect it because it happens every time I go'? Or just that 'I think I can expect it'.

Really splitting hairs, no? But you asked!

So what TP said, or maybe "I'm afraid they are going to...."

edit/add: Actually, thinking about it for another minute - I actually think it is funnier with the imagined wording. The idea that they actually would whistle for the dog is a bit far-fetched, and some may roll their eyes at the idea, thinking it is corny. But I think all of us share the fear that we will taunted for some past slip-up, sometimes to the point of neurosis. So that gets into a real shared feeling with your reader, and more 'connection'?

What could be funnier than 'neurosis'? Woody Allen made a career out of it!


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Old 02-12-2014, 04:47 PM   #18
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An old Chicago Irish (or maybe newspaper writer) saying, "never let a fact get in the way of a good story."
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Old 02-12-2014, 05:45 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Texas Proud View Post
I am OK with what you wrote, but you can be a bit more honest without changing it much...


You can say "every time I go to their office I think they are going to...."...

Or, 'they look at me like they are going to....'....
Yes, that's a good idea.

I've been surprised at how many people think there should be no embellishment. They were pretty threatening about it at the writing forum.

When I read one of Jame Herriot's books, I realized that every single chapter story was a little too perfect in how it happened. For example, one day his boss complained about how much surgical thread he was using, and the next day told him he was trying too hard to conserve it. Over and over again, things turned out too perfectly. That made me realize that the stories were manipulated to fit the plot. There were no lies, but there were things that were amalgams of multiple events or that were presented out of sequence.
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Old 02-12-2014, 06:18 PM   #20
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Another thing I've found useful in my own writing:
Whenever a question arises in my own mind about whether something is just a tad too far from the literal truth, I look for a way out (as you are doing).
In most cases, the easiest and most acceptable solution (for me) has been to tip the scale all the way over and exaggerate outrageously. Not only is it a lot funnier, but nobody will ever take you to task for it, since it's obviously put in there for the joke value.
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