1. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Family History: How much is too much?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by cydney, Aug 29, 2016.

    I write about my family a lot. I've never really worried about online journals and poetry, but I do worry that if I ever wanted to write a book or publish a journal or an autobiography that I might offend my family - siblings, nieces, nephews.

    I've considered writing 'nonfiction' as 'fiction' - protecting the characters, etc.

    Just wondering if anyone else has ever been concerned about this and what you decided to do about it.

    Thanks for any help!
     
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  2. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I'm a little confused as to what you're writing or trying to write. Poetry? Journal? Fiction? Nonfiction? There is nothing that says you can't do it all. I think all writers draw on their real lives for inspiration or material. I've totally done it and will continue to do it. I'm not trying to paint my loved ones in any kind of negative light, but when they make questionable decisions or get themselves in let's just say interesting predicaments, well, it can make for good writing material. When I write fiction, it's fiction even when I draw on something from real life. I'm not trying to tell a story exactly how it happened, and, honestly, I don't think it usually works well to try to write fiction at the same time as trying to tell a story exactly how it happened. Fiction in more complicated than the truth. If I want to write something the way it happened, I will write nonfiction. I don't worry about changing names or pissing people off too much. I'm a writer. My family knows I'm a writer. I'm not trying to expose family secrets. I'm just trying to tell some good stories.
     
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  3. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Thanks for the reply. I'm not sure what I'm trying to write either, to be honest. A lot of it's already written in journals.

    I thought about this after I posted the question. I think out of respect for my family if I ever do anything with all those stories I'll write it as fiction & under a pen name. Most of my family would probably never read it if they didn't know it was about them.

    Hope that makes sense.

    Again, thanks so much for the reply, DR. :)
     
  4. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    So I have an aunt who wrote a "fictional" book about our family. She's a bit of a rabid lunatic regarding politics and all things her. Very self-centered, she imposes her views on others in disrespectful ways. I'm not saying that you are disrespectful to your family but here's what you have to remember. No two people (especially family members) remember events in the exact same way. That's why two people can have different memories of the same event. The same reason siblings fight over who said what when they were kids. Memories are shifty, at best.

    I would caution against thinly veiled "fiction." To me, it's a bit of an ethical dilemma. Instead of using real events, and changing names, take some time and think about the book you want to write. Let the idea marinate in your head. Try to frame the message you want to get across in your own way. Make up characters that serve your story rather than using a story as a vehicle to describe your family. Use your family as inspirations for the characters.

    Just something to think about.

    I'll round out the story about my aunt by saying that she got railed by the family for writing something like that. She used the book as a passive aggressive attack on certain family members. If you do what you said by writing the story as fiction and using a pen name (nothing wrong with it if you go that route) be sure your motives are pure.
     
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  5. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    I appreciate your response, Spencer. To be honest, I'm new to writing anything other than poetry & journaling & probably didn't ask the question right. I was just throwing a thought out there & probably should have waited until I'd been a member here longer & scoped ideas & thoughts out better.

    I'm not worried about having pure motives. I think the fact that I care about disrespecting my family shows that I am careful about my motives.

    I'm nothing like your aunt & have absolutely nothing harmful or selfish in mind. I'd rather do nothing at all than be that way.

    Thanks very much for your reply! :)
     
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  6. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    I hope my reply didn't come off as terse. I certainly didn't intend it that way. I was merely offering some food for thought while you decide what you're going to do. I'm not one to tell anyone what they should or shouldn't do. Whatever you choose is totally valid and acceptable.

    I'm a firm believer in writing what you want to write. If you want to write that book, then do it! :D
     
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  7. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Thank you. I appreciate this reply.

    I have no idea what I want to do. That's the problem, I guess.

    I have all these stories & poems in journals & I don't know what to do with them, if anything at all.

    The replies here have been helpful. I suspicioned that writing about your family can be really sketchy. I'm pretty sure about that now.

    Thanks again, Spencer.
     
  8. Marlon Manalese
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    Marlon Manalese Member

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    What kinds of things would they be offended by? If you don't mind sharing of course.

    When it comes to writing non-fiction with people very close to you (either emotionally or just by proximity), it's important to ask for permission and to know how to portray them all in an equal light. If you're writing fiction, it would be wise to alter a few details and not make it obvious who you're writing, because you can be sued for defemation. More importantly in non-fiction, if you portray someone in a completely negative light, the defamation claims would be even more obvious.

    I would say that if there's signs of significant dysfunction or abuse in the part of a family member, outing them in writing might only exacerbate the problem than solve it. They need counciling, not having their dirty laundry aired out in print for several others to read. Otherwise, if it's just tiny embarassing things they don't want everyone to know, just don't include it or find a way to balance it out with putting a positive spin on their lesser qualities, or heighten their actual positive traits to balance out the embarassment.
     
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  9. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Yes, I agree with you @Marlon Manalese . Thanks for the reply! I think I've decided what I want to do. This thread has helped. I wasn't sure about asking the question at first. I'm glad I did now.
     
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  10. Francis de Aguilar
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    Francis de Aguilar Active Member

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    One way or another we are all the products of our history and experience. I can't see how, if we are to write with passion, we can avoid writing about it. I consciously weave mine into my fiction.
     
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  11. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Thanks @Francis de Aguilar . I agree with & feel the same way. I think that's what I'm struggling with. My family has rich, deep southern roots. Some of the stories are wonderful even if they're a little dark. Not only do I want to remember them but I want my kids & grandchildren to know about them too. BUT it's a slippery slope!
     
  12. Marlon Manalese
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    Marlon Manalese Member

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    Ayn Rand has said artists will always inject their philosophy into their work, even if unconsciously. I think it's true :D
     
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  13. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Artists inject everything into everything, if we're lucky. :)
     
  14. Francis de Aguilar
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    Francis de Aguilar Active Member

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    Is the quandary whether to write or whether publish them?
     
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  15. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Yes, I think so. When I first posed this question I was worried about TMI just for personal reasons. I'm too open sometimes. But I'm also concerned that sharing written stories with my kids and grandkids may offend other members of my family. Like, for instance, my granddad was a real character - played the fiddle on street corners for money so he could get drunk. At least that's what I've been told by a few of my aunts. But THEN the other aunts were angry because they shared that with me.

    That type of thing. Honestly, I don't think there's anyway to make everyone happy in this type of situation. Right now I think I'll just keep family history in a journal & share it with my kids when they're interested.

    I really didn't know what I was concerned about until I asked the question & got so many good answers - the value of a forum like this, imo.

    Thanks @Francis de Aguilar , very much!
     
  16. Marlon Manalese
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    Marlon Manalese Member

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    Yeah that might be way better if it might be too much of a hassle to reveal this stuff to the public. The fiddle thing isn't bad, I'd be okay with someone sharing that about me, but your uncle ain't me, so it's understandable if he wouldn't want that info released. Even to people who won't ever meet him or read whatever book you would write it in.
     
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  17. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    I had a couple of Aunts who wrote a book about our family. It was so shallow it was almost boring. Oh well, I can just keep writing. I don't have to make a decision about anything right now. But I'm glad I asked the question. Has me thinking about what I REALLY want to do with what I write.
     
  18. Manishtusu
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    Manishtusu New Member

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    Check out the My Struggle (Min kamp) series of novels by Karl Ove Knausgård: successful but pretty much pissed off his family/friends in the process
     
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  19. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    So you effectively want to write a satirical novel about your family? I don't see why you would not want to change the names to avoid upsetting them. It makes sense.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_person_fiction
     
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  20. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Thank you!

    No, not satirical at all. I've decided not to write about my family except in private journals. When I die my kids can decide what to do with them - read them, share them, burn them. Doesn't really matter. :)
     
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  21. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I've got a really good friend who wrote a non-fictional account of her life (including her extended family) for her grandchildren, so they would know more about her. (Her life now is very different from how she began.)

    The manuscript is one of the best I've ever read, and I quickly forgot it was my friend who had written it. It's perfectly publishable ...but it won't be, because she won't allow it. She tried to be honest about certain family things, and while the people mentioned are not still living, their children and grandchildren are. So she is concerned that if it were published, lots of people might be either hurt or angry.

    So if you go the non-fiction route, be aware that people will take umbrage at things you say. If your family is perfect and nothing ever went wrong and all the members are paragons of virtue, then they'll all be happy ...but the story will be pretty humdrum for an outsider to read.

    If you fictionalise your story, but stick fairly close to the truth about what actually happened, then you also run the risk of upsetting people. Folks have a tendency to assume that a lot of what a writer produces is disguised autobiography, even when it's not. So that will happen.

    I'm with @Spencer1990 on this. I'd say come up with a story that doesn't resemble your own family history at all, but then gently insert certain aspects of your family history into the mix. You can put people off track if you flip gender. If your aunt was a holy terror, turn it into a male cousin instead. Do enough of this kind of thing, and folks will NOT be able to tell where fiction leaves off and facts begin. Furthermore, it will be hard for your holy terror auntie to take umbrage if a holy terror character in your story is a male fictitional cousin. Folks don't want to see themselves in a bad light, so she won't push it. In fact, she'll probably think he's a great character!

    Writing fiction is powerful, in that it allows you TOTAL control over the situations you write about. You can do anything you want. You can make reality seem better than it actually was. Or worse than it actually was. Or turn a bad decision into a good one, and vice-versa. You can set your story in an entirely different time or place from what 'really happened.'

    If I were you, I'd exploit personal history by writing fiction, and forget about recording it as factual—unless you're prepared to take the heat that factual honesty will bring.
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2016
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  22. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Thanks @jannert . Very good ideas!
     
  23. Sparrow Kuhn
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    This is the classic dilemma of memoir. Anne Lamott puts it this way:
    “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
    I think that's a lot of the truth - your memories are your own to do with as you will. However, the other side of that coin - which is, I think, the one that you are more concerned about - is that people's feelings might be hurt. As nonfiction writers, there are two things we can do about this: we can do everything within our power to stick to the truth, which often means asking the other people who were there about their take on the story, and acknowledging that our perspective is imperfect. We can do this by using word choice like "it seemed to me that" or "I remember [this thing], although it might have been [that thing]. The second thing we can do is work to remember that everyone we interact with has their own formative background and motivations for their choices that seem (or at least seemed) valid to them. Perhaps your father was never home, but he was never home because he worked constantly to keep a roof over your head. Perhaps it was fear of failure that kept [person] from doing [action].

    If your decision is to keep your work to yourself, that is a valid and acceptable one. If you choose to publish it, that's okay too. Be forewarned that publishing nonfiction anonymously is difficult to do, but it is a valid approach if it is the one you choose for yourself. Regardless of how you proceed, the reality is that the way you remember your experiences has formed you and shaped your perspective; this formative effect gives those memories validity and worth.
     
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  24. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Thanks @Sparrow Kuhn . Appreciate your reply very much!
     
  25. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Thanks for your interest here, @zoupskim
     

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