One of my favourite Twitter users is the Didn’t Happen of the Year Awards. This account is dedicated to picking out tall tales and outrageous claims from social media users.
The best way to gauge the style is by reading a number of posts. After a while, you might begin to spot some common elements:
- The story is usually heard second-hand from a friend or relative, or witnessed by the writer, although some accounts are first-hand.
- The setting is usually a crowded public place such as a supermarket or a gym.
- Stories often feature a child aged under 10 who speaks more articulately than would be expected from that age range.
- In an argument with a member of staff, a manager will sometimes intervene; the member of staff is usually fired on the spot.
- The story rounds off with a report of spontaneous cheering from the crowd.
The winner of the award in 2018 is a textbook example.
And yet, when we read an autobiography, there is usually an understanding that the events don’t take place quite as presented. Sometimes events are merged, or timelines become elastic, or the wording implies that something else really happened.
The difference between this type of writing and a Didn’t Happen award nominee is that the author has taken care to ensure that the events are at least consistent with generally accepted behaviour. How often have you seen a member of staff lose their job in front of customers, or heard an entire cafe cheer at someone else’s conversation? Probably never, and certainly not at the same time.
And with some authors, the story is so good that readers don’t care whether or not they’re being deceived. Try starting with these rock-star memoirs and make up your own mind.