The argument of emotional truth versus historical fact, was first pointed out to me when I studied creative nonfiction writing, a genre that encompasses literary journalism (think: In Cold Blood), memoir, personal essay, diaries. It does not specifically include biography or newspaper journalism on one side of the spectrum, or novels on the other. Creative nonfiction lies in-between, and aims to get at the truth, if not facts of the story.
What does that mean? To me, it means that while sometimes the dialogue may be recreated, or one's description of a scene may be embellished and not remembered, these re-creations are made to serve the story, to make the reader experience the author's embodied reality. We, as writers, try to get our readers to time-travel with us, to smell, see, taste, feel the things that we do. Embodied writing can take place in any genre of writing; but with creative nonfiction it sometimes gets criticized for not being entirely, factually accurate. Music in theater can play a similar role: it can transport the listener to a place beyond the present, beyond even the words that are being sung. It has been said that the song occurs in a musical when “mere” words can no longer express the character's emotion (of course there are many other functions of songs in musicals, but I believe this one occurs in most if not all shows).
I'm posting this on FamilyArchive's blog today because I want to encourage you to tell your stories, even if you don't remember all the facts. The facts can be looked up: dates, bloodlines, etc., can all be researched later. What's important and what is uniquely yours, is how you remember your story. Small details like staring at the clock, waiting for your mom to come home from her night shift with meat pies for breakfast: these are details we won't get from the factual documents. We can look up where and when she worked later. Here at FamilyArchive we're dedicated to telling the truth, starting from the facts, but moreso trying to help you tell the experienced story of your life.