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Fictionalizing Memoirs

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#1 All In Al

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Posted 19 January 2014 - 12:02 PM

Here was the dilemma.. What takes precedence?  To write a memoir about an ordinary man immersed in an extraordinary event that might have limited appeal or write an action/adventure novel surrounding the extraordinary event based upon the memoirs of an ordinary man and cater to a broader audience.


I have written a 170k word book about my experiences in the Navy during the Vietnam War.  My original concept was to strictly write a humorous novel dealing with the outlandish behavior of sailors ashore between combat deployments.  The war is a sensitive subject for many and to reduce it to comedy seemed inappropriate.  So I chose to write the book as an (action/adventure?) novel and interjected a number of  humorous anecdotes.  There is a back story as to how the MC a once promising officer candidate ended up as an enlisted man thrust into the crucible of war.  He is confronted by a regimented and rigorous lifestyle that he must adapt to as well as hostility from enemy and on several occassions friendly forces that he must contend with to survive.    


I have changed the names of all the characters, invented others and created dialogue.  The names of the ships involved, the missions conducted and many of my eyewitness accounts are unchanged.  There are historical references in certain sections tying the ship's missions to factual events explaining the whys and wherefores. 


There are pasages from Coleridge's "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner" interpreted by the MC as an omen and employed to create tension by adding an element of foreshadowing.  At the end that tension is never clearly resolved.


My query letter has been promoting the book as a fictionalized memoir.  I am not sure if that is an accurate categorization?

Al Campo




#2 mwsinclair


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Posted 22 January 2014 - 08:47 AM

Well, you'll have a hard time getting much traction with a manuscript of 170k words, too. That's twice as long as a memoir or traditionally published novel by a first-time novelist can hope to see published.

#3 Dr Anne

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Posted 06 February 2014 - 06:54 AM

Hi, in my humble opinion, I would go with fiction.

I am not sure if there is such a category as fictionalised memoir (others here may know), and writing/marketing the book as a novel would give you more leeway, and allow you to change certain events, perhaps introduce other characters, etc. Making it fiction may also solve the problems that may arise if people recognise themselves in the book.


Memoir is usually an event or series of events seen through the eyes of one person, while of course fiction can be based on a person's life, or historical events, like war.


I am not an expert, but have had some success with short - story memoirs, mainly about how our family was changed by our dad's experience as a nuclear veteran in the 1950s.(in Australia - the British exploded atomic bombs in our deserts for > 10 years). 


Your book has a great theme and the touches of humour and the use of poetry would lend it interest.

I hope you can succeed with it, but, as mws says, it's too long, maybe you need book one and a sequel!


Good luck,




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