Just as lace or glittering trim defines a designer outfit,
fictional embellishments to true stories give them sparkle.
My eyes lingered on this pearl of wisdom while shredding notes from past Las Positas College writing classes. There was no attribution for this aging handwritten note. Perhaps it was a quote from the instructor, or my response to a class activity when she asked us to define creative nonfiction.
An embellishment, I learned, is an exaggeration or glorification of the simple truth to bring a story to life. Not full-grown lies, but tiny white ones, bursting through the soil of harsh truth and budding above fallow ground. These additions bring sparkle to a story like shimmering sequins hand-stitched to a basic Mardi Gras gown. They transform a sluggish truth to the cadence of a marching band. They soar like a bright-colored balloon caught up in strong winds.
My father detested fiction or the slightest deviance from facts. A man of few words, he taught me to tell the truth, and punished me when I didn’t. To say he was stressed years before that word soared to the top of the charts describes his hidden anxieties. Assuming that he worried about basics like housing and food was true—a major concern during those Great Depression years. Perhaps he would have agreed with a simple nod if someone had said he showed no excitement at my birth. Yet none of these statements enhance a story.
The listener in a story-telling session, or the reader engrossed in a biography, wants to know my father’s reaction to unexpected twins born twenty-five years after his first child, almost a year after his first grandchild. They want to hear his words when he first saw two identical babies sleeping on a single pillow. Long after my father died, I asked my older siblings about his attitude at that surprise. I wanted to know what he said.
One of my older brothers remembered many of our father’s words but interchanged the corresponding events. One sibling insisted that that our religious father’s spoke a similar mantra for every financial crisis. One sister, a fifteen-year-old present at the birth and with a sharp memory in later years, discounted the others with her version. If you were reading the story about surprise twins, the last of nine children, which quote you would attribute to our father, whether true, false, or embellished?
- “We’ll make do.”
- “Two more mouths to feed.”
- “The Lord will provide.”
Post your reply in Comments and tell me why.
Violet Carr Moore, author and editor, helps writers attain their publication dreams. Along the way, she weaves her legacy with pearls of wisdom and mystic moments.