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Autofictography: the blurred line between autobiography and fiction

I’ve written quite a bit about my script writing process within this blog. My own script had its beginnings as a series of diary entries, expanded to dot-points, filled out with stream of consciousness writing and dialogue, imported into Scrivener and resorted, chopped and edited to fit first the classic restorative Three Act structure according to Alternative Scriptwriting: Successfully Breaking the Rules by Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush, and then resorted, chopped, changed and re-edited to fit John Truby’s 22 Steps of Story (see his excellent book The Anatomy of Story, 2007). All through this process I was doing my best to get the script perfect BEFORE I started drawing. I wanted to avoid putting a story together without planning, composing an ill-conceived structure that hobbled along without making sense, without drive and purpose. After a lot of work and many months it was done; it was not perfect, but it seemed I had fashioned the script  into something that vaguely resembled the shape of a classic story, and although it was still bloated and distorted, it reflected the steps of story as suggested by Truby. I could have kept working on it and ironing out the many creases throughout but it was time to start.

Once I began progressing on the visuals I really built momentum, and after 150 pages of rough layouts I had a nagging feeling that something about the story was off. Some scenes didn’t make sense where they were, and seemed to be pleading with me to be reassigned. Other scenes, put together in order to build a particular structure, seemed too convenient, too predictable in their placement. I read again through the script and I realised something monumental.

The structure I had spent months shaping my script into did not work as the piece of writing that I felt reflected true autobiography. Its machinations, its design were too clear. Real life is not a script. Real life, while containing cause and effect, is altogether more random than a movie.

This, fortunately, ties into my research as I ask:

What are the distinctions of autobiography? Where do we draw a line in the sand and say, on this side is autobiography, on that side is fiction? How much modification can the author impose upon their life narrative before it becomes a work of fiction? Does a visible authorial management dilute the seemingly unstructured reality of real life?

After much consideration and practical work I’ve come to the point of rearranging events only where necessary in order to enhance plot structure, and leaving the rest as it happened, in the order it happened. Having been through this process I can certainly see many benefits as a result, and looking to these structures has been vital in deciding what to include and what to leave out. There are observations as well, on how we as humans do adhere to certain patterns of story. We all have moral and psychological weaknesses. We all have needs that must met in order to overcome these weaknesses. We all have desire, we make plans, we come to resolutions and realisations. We all have people and events in the past that haunt us like ghosts, reaching out through time to influence us. And we all have antagonists, battles, and new equilibriums.

It’s an amazing thing, how story reflects life, and I don’t regret the last year and a half of story research one little bit.