To Name or Not to Name?

Posted: May 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

As a new writer of creative nonfiction (as opposed to one who has dabbled in this-n-that for years), I have encountered a few interesting questions that I’m having to ponder with my first serious submission.  My last publications were long ago, or so it seems, and to relatively obscure journals, and before I was schooled in the art of writing or I had something a bit off-color to write about.  Now…well, let’s just say that I’m much more careful about how I write and wondering if I need to be leary about what is seen by the public.

By nature, I am a straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is person.  I don’t believe in playing games that hide the truth, nor do I believe in presenting something as truth when it clearly is not.  In personal relationships, I tend to be quite a bit more reserved, though; I still haven’t managed to get over that worry of hurting another’s feelings or appearing weak with expression of the truth. 

In my writing courses, I met instructors who both taught and encouraged the use of “created” dialogue in works of created nonfiction.  Their reasoning was that, as long as the words encompassed the essential meaning of the people speaking, it didn’t matter if they were the exact words spoken.  Also, coming up with exact dialogue from long-ago memories is nearly impossible; so some re-creation is almost always necessary.

I have two thoughts on this.  I do not believe it is okay to create dialogue that is in quotes in a creative nonfiction work that stands on its own.  For example:  “Mary said, ‘I killed that SOB.  And I’m glad he’s dead.”  If you weren’t there and you didn’t hear it, or you are not positive you remember it verbatim, you have no business writing it down in quotes.  On the other hand, if you preface it with a conditional statement, something like, “I remember Mary saying something like this when I walked in the room…,” or “John said that Mary said something like…”  I accept that it’s okay to paraphrase the dialogue.

My other issue/concern with creative nonfiction, particularly when it comes to writing memoir, is when do I use my own name and when do I use a pseudonym?  I am currently preparing a manuscript to submit to a well-known creative writing journal that is highly personal in nature.  Now, I don’t have the confidence yet to believe that it will come anywhere close to being accepted for publication, but I’m treating this as a writing exercise, sort of a what if?  A friend made the suggestion that I submit under a pseudonym, but that goes against everything that I believe in.  I am not ashamed of what I am writing, and in the end I want to be true to who and what I am and have become.  If I write under a pseudonym, isn’t that hiding the real me?

Some, I understand, use pen names to protect family and friends.  If family is unable to deal with who and what I am, then that is their problem, I think.  The one friend who also plays a large role in this piece, is anonymous already, and could not be identified even if the work were published in a venue for all my friends and family to see.

I guess, in the end, it’s not really a question at all.  If I want to remain true to who I am, I will publish under my own name.  Only in the case where I would want to protect someone else would I use a pseudonym.

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