Never let the facts…. Part 2.

I know the drill, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” I’ve used this expression so often, I could have coined it; maybe I did. I’ve always applied this rule when writing short stories; sifting out the boring parts and adding imagined details to produce a tight well structured tale.  I am not sure why common sense abandoned me when I started to write my memoir, Nothing is Forever.

My partner left after 5.5 years. It should not have come as a surprise, but it did.  He’d warned me from the beginning of our relationship that he would marry some day. As the years passed, his cautionary comment faded as I pushed ahead, always planning our future. And then he left, to find a wife, leaving me with our  miniature poodle, Rina and my despair.

Saturated in grief, I started to pen our story; a gay romance about an older Australian male involved with a younger Indonesian man. I wrote and sobbed and wrote some more. I translated each chapter into Indonesian and emailed them to my ex-partner. I was confident that if he realized the extent of my love, he would return. He did not. He loved our story being committed to words, even emailed comments like, “We had a great life.” “We loved each other… still do,” “I was so lucky.” but he didn’t come back. He regularly emailed and asked about the progress of the story, so I kept writing, until I finally realized two things:

  1. If I kept writing this memoir, I would get the arse sued off me; and
  2. I had let the facts get in the way of this being a good story.

My story was full of real characters with their many flaws and secrets. (These are fictionalized here.) Perhaps it would be better if Jo didn’t find out that his partner; Ali was blowing men in the neighbourhood every time he went on a business trip to Australia. Maybe Babs wouldn’t take kindly to being described as a cynical old piece of work who was desperately husband hunting. Certainly, Budi would not enjoy my descriptions of his penis, which looked like a tiny deformed cauliflower, even though he may quite like the section where I described him as the sexiest bottom in his military battalion. I’d penned our story as if no one would care; as if slander and libel laws did not exist.

I finally stopped writing and read my first forty chapters. Breaking out in a cold sweat, the potential for litigation my words invited became obvious.

A second realization dawned as I read those chapters. In an effort to document our lives together, I had included boring book-closing chapters. My ex-partner and I enjoyed the chapter describing how he learned to make Vietnamese spring rolls from my friend Tom, but my potential readership would not. They wanted gay fiction, not cooking recipes. I realized this chapter could be reduced to a couple of paragraphs focusing on Tom trying to fondle, caress and kiss my partner during the cooking lesson.

As I poured over my chapters, enlightenment dawned – much of the writing could be left out. There was no need to describe our twelve overseas holidays and all our breaks away around Indonesia. The reader would tire of a travelogue, when they were after romance. A sampling of holidays would be enough. This also applied to sex scenes; they too needed to be clipped or removed.

I had forgotten my own cardinal rule; Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Mistakenly, I had let the facts drive this memoir, but it was no longer a memoir. Instead I decided to turn it into a fast paced gay fiction. The experiences of our lives together and the themes we lived would become the basis of the story, but they no longer drove the story-line.

Quickly I reduced 50,000 words to 30,000 and again resumed writing. Writing 1,000 words a day, I have hopes that the manuscript will be finished in a couple of months. A few edits later, I may actually have a manuscript ready for submission to publishers and one that won’t have me in the courts.

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