Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Another Panel From the Graphic Memoir: The Trouble With the Truth

Here is a problem I never considered as a reader of memoirs that I think about all the time as an aspiring author of one. What do you do when you come to a part of the story that casts you or anyone dear to you in an unflattering light? My wife is, believe me, a woman of great patience. When she saw this panel she objected that "It makes me look mad." I replied that it was my impression that she was often frustrated and a bit angry about my inability to speak clearly. She admitted this was true. I asked her if I should lie to my readers. She countered with a distinction "I get mad at this disease."

Why not show all the times she patiently listens while I struggle to articulate? Well, because a story is about conflict. As a storyteller, that is naturally what one is drawn to. Besides, although it may not seem like it, I'm really doing her a favor.

In addition to being true, her moment of impatience has the advantage of making her a more sympathetic character. First, it's hard to identify with a saint. Second, a person who perseveres in spite of anger or fear or whatever weakness you name,  is more human and likeable. It makes for a better story because it's true. But nobody, including me, wants to be reminded of times when they behaved in a way they didn't like.

As the teller of the story you cannot include everything. You can and must decide what to leave in and what to take out, what to draw and how to draw it. The temptation to juice things up or gloss over what you do not wish to confront is powerful. How well you avoid that temptation will be a large measure of the success and value of the work to the reader. But when it makes a loved one upset, it can't be blamed on a disease.  

A note, spell check is underlining nearly every word in the draft of this post. It's clearly on the fritz. I apologize for any spelling atrocities that I let slip.


Adele said...


I would laugh at the truth of this post but really the unclarity of my speech is the cause of most of the incidents of painful tension between my husband and me.

When no one else can understand me, he can. He translates for me. When he can't understand me, I am stumped. My feelings are hurt. We are both thoroughly frustrated.

Keep the picture and remember that even though you might feel like you are hollering extremely slowly, she is more likely to hear you murmuring extremely quickly. At least that's how it is here.

Peter Dunlap-Shohl said...

Hi Adele, this is a big source of frustration in our house, and the fact that the same goes for you makes me all the more certain that it needs to go in the book. This is one more example of how PD interferes with daily life in ways that are so much more damaging than they feel like they should be. The fiendish knack for destruction that characterizes this disorder is amazing in its never-ending inventiveness. Here's to spouses who persevere in spite of this!



Adele said...

My husband said that some day he would love to meet your wife and have a conversation with her without either of us being present. :)