It depends on what aspect of the story is of primary interest. If you're telling the reader about your experience escaping from the World Trade Center on September 11, it would be best to be strictly and precisely accurate in every detail.
If you're telling a story in which the meaning is more metaphorical, then, in my opinion, it's OK to shape it and edit it for artistic reasons. But even so, try not to. Because truth usually is stranger and more interesting and more poetic than fiction, and if you think you have to change the facts to suit your meaning, you may be overlooking a better meaning.
Two examples come to mind. Homer Hickam's memoir "Rocket Boys" and Augusten Burroughs' memoir "Running With Scissors." Both were very successful books that became popular movies. But both authors, in my opinion, were so desperate to appeal to the popular taste that they turned genuinely interesting true experiences into second-rate trashy fiction.
A much better memoir that I read recently is "Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss" by Frederick and Stephen Barthelme. The story is awkward and meandering, with several different themes in it, but it has the ring of unembellished truth, which makes it more interesting than it would have been if the authors had tried to "improve" on what actually happened to them.
· 9 years ago