1. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    I really want to write about my family

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by live2write, Nov 27, 2012.

    It has been awhile since I have been writing. I have been going through ups and downs lately and after speaking with my grandmother, she wants me to write a book about my family. Looking into the idea I think it would be excellent because of the happenings and characters in my family. However I need some advice...maybe a lot.

    I do not know if writing about my family will hurt their reputation because they are still alive. I could alter situations and names and make it appear fictional. I do not know where to start. I do want to be in first person, telling to story to the audience. I also do have an idea of where I want to start.

    I could say this is a post of in desperate need of encouragement. Have any of you done something like this before and what is your advice?

    I do want to start the book when I was in kindergarden, when I moved into a new town. It really is how this all began and how it still continues. But really it is not just about my family, more about myself and my other siblings living in the household we grew up in. We were not the family where neighbors would invite us to block parties or anything. I kind of see myself as Carrie from Stephen King's novel, except no psychotic religious mother or parental figures and no telekinesis; instead feeling alone, abandoned and mis-understood.
     
  2. Fife
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    Fife Senior Member

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    Looks like you are thinking about writing a memoir. I think one thing that is important is who you're writing the book for. For example, I write a few poems, short stories, etc. that I never plan on sharing with anyone simply because I think they are personal to me. There are some ideas that I wish I could publish because I think it would be inspiring--or at least enlightening--for others to hear. That brings to question the idea of an audience. Who is the story catered towards. When I think of audience, I think of telling a story next to a bonfire. Who's going to sit across from me while I read my story?

    As far as whether it will hurt the family reputation or not, that is a personal and ethical decision. I think if you cherish your relationship with your family, you should not compromise it with a story. I am in the same boat--I want to write a story about my family, but sadly, the parts I feel would be the most interesting to share may be the most embarrassing parts of my family's story. I think there's a reason why a lot of people write memoirs when they're older. There's a less social backlash; most of the people involved are no longer among the living; or the mere fact that one simply just doesn't give a f#$# anymore.

    I may end up writing a fictional story based on my family--that way I can more liberally combine characters and set the drama. Plus, when I honestly look at my life, me as a person, I'm not sure if I'm as likeable as I would like readers to think. Therefore, do I lie? Do I make myself to be fun, witty, or justified when I may not be (at least consistently)? With a fictional story, you are more free to create your character(s). I think it is just as effective to write fictional stories that capture the emotions you've felt. I think the goal of storytelling (no matter the medium) should simply be just that.
     
  3. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    I personally would have no interest in writing such a book - I'm just too damned boring! But I'd say if that's what you want to do then do it. Just make sure to tell your family what you're doing and get their ok for the parts that involve them. It'd be terrible to gain a book and lose your family!

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  4. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    I personally would have no interest in writing such a book - I'm just too damned boring! But I'd say if that's what you want to do then do it. Just make sure to tell your family what you're doing and get their ok for the parts that involve them. It'd be terrible to gain a book and lose your family!

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  5. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    This is similar to my first book, which I'm rewriting. I found that a simple retelling didn't really make for a great read, so I added, cut, combined, and basically moved pieces around until it has become a novel of sorts.

    I certainly left the crucial events and characters intact, and just as all of us have unflattering sides as well as our noble selves, so do my portrayals.

    My rewrite is cleaning up language and flow.
     
  6. Cerrus
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    Cerrus Senior Member

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    I'm writing something a tad similar. Basically, it's a completely fictionalized story, but the themed elements relate to my life deeply.
     
  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    It's difficult to take on a writing project because someone else wants you to do it. I'm guessing that your grandmother wants a completely true account, which means that you would need to do some additional digging. It could be a worthwhile project - IF you have a passion for it. Likewise, a fictionalized version could also be worthwhile, but may not be what your grandmother has in mind.

    Good luck.
     
  8. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    I would say be c``reful, when it comes to any negative points. Try to be empathetic when possible, not blatantly blaming members. Almost take a step back and tell the story from a distance. The reason I say this is experience. I know someone close who did something similar and self published a book about the family history and gave it to family and friends. Most were returned and few didnt speak to him again. So tread careful. Is a story worth any hurt it can cause. (this is thinking worst case scenario) if its mostly positive go for it lol.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    whatever you decide, you really should consult a literary attorney first, since if you write about living people who are not public figures and do not have signed releases from all of them, you could find yourself being sued, as well as in hot water with your family...

    if you make it a novel and not a memoir, by changing names, if anyone in it knows you're writing the book and/or any of them or any who know them can recognize them as the characters in the book, you can still be sued, even if you write it under a pen name...
     
  10. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Never take on a writing project you're not entirely passionate about. I'm constantly told by my mother
    to write about our life that it would be a best seller. It probably would - if I could be honest about my
    feelings ( which I'm not sure I could. ) I could also be sued, shunned and who-knows-what-else if
    I managed to be honest about my feelings.

    But the book my mother wants me to write would not turn out to be the book I'd write.

    If this is a project you are passionate about - try out a scene and see how it goes.
    The worst thing about writing about past events is being objective. I ran into someone
    I knew years ago - I did not like this person at all, but he mentioned how nice I had
    been to him. He totally shocked me - because all memories of him had been distorted
    ( he was a very angry, rebellious person ) and the event he spoke I had forgotten.
    I totally forgot the good times.
     
  11. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    ...which in turn could be a really good marketing move to sell your book better! :)

    1. Don't be scared off by the whole "my neighbor can sue me if I mention his dog" meme. There is so much memoirs, autobiographies, family albums, etc published nowadays and so few actual legal problems with them for you to consider it a real problem.

    2. If you want to avoid your neighbor from hating your aunt after he reads in your text that she is to blame for the death of his dog - talk to people. Tell everybody really important to the story that you are going to write about them - and then interview them. Talk to them about everything you can, find out more about your family from everybody involved.

    I found just talking to people about your honest intentions can be a good catalyst for writing. "Hey," you say, "I'm going to write about your problems with your ex-husband and I want it to be as real as it can. So, tell me about it." The thing is, it may even be therapeutical! :)
     
  12. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    LOL Writing is amazing and gives you a buzz and you should restrict yourself as little as possible. However remember you have to live with these people after. Just before you act, ask yourself "Will it be worth it."
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    only if you win the suit, since if you're being sued, you may also be enjoined from selling it till the case is settled... and unless you're someone famous, it's not going to be making headlines, or getting you on the talk shows...

    and, while 'just talking to people' may be helpful in writing about events you want to include in the book, it still can't keep you from being sued, if you don't have signed releases from all involved...

    advising new writers to 'not be scared off' etc., is not doing them any favor, burlbird... legalities do have to be considered, if one wants to be successful as a writer, so telling them it's no big deal is simply bad advice, imo...
     
  14. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    And talking to people could also have them telling you straight out not to include them or their personal business in anything - I've met very few people who are comfortable discussing details about their problems (unless drunk) and I have a hard time believing most would welcome their problems being publicized. Which is why they tend to sue.

    Talk to an attorney. They are the only ones who can give you the correct advice.
     
  15. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think it was Tom Boswell in "How Life Imitates the World Series" who once wrote, "there is no more seductive sentence in the English language than 'tell me your story'." As a sportswriter, he had good reason to know. But he also related that many times, after having done exactly that, players would immediately follow with, "You're not going to print that, are you??"

    Just because someone tells you their story does not mean they want to see it in print.

    To amplify what Mammamaia said above, advising a novice writer to press blindly on without legal advice, or with the (ridiculous) notion that being sued is somehow a great marketing tool, is just plain irresponsible.

    The great strength of this forum is that there are experienced people who give advice. The great weakness is that they aren't the only ones who do. The trick is to know the difference.
     
  16. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    I may be wrong on simple basis that I come from another part of the world, where libel laws are almost non-existent and copyright is a word found only in dictionaries :D BUT if you google a bit, and read through what is actually happening, and read some articles actually concerning this hypothetically dangerous world where publishing your memoirs will ruin your life... - read some articles here http://www.copylaw.org/ or here http://www.rightsofwriters.com...

    This, i think, wraps up my opinion on the subject:
    And when it comes to "simply talk to people", of course you are going to run into people completely uninterested in seeing (parts of) their life stories published. So - note that in your memoirs. Write what others told you by using disclaimers. "My aunt Barbara told me she killed the neighbors dog. My neighbor was unwilling to talk further on this subject."

    When it comes to memoirs, worry if you are going to reveal some really dirty family secrets... If not:

     
  17. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    But the OP wasn't talking about her own memoirs, was she? She said she was considering writing about her family. That is, other people.

    Using Google as a research tool is handy and often effective, but it is NOT dispositive, as the lawyers like to say.
     
  18. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    OP said:
    So, I concluded it is something in between. Plus, she says she's ready to "alter situations and names and make it appear fictional."

    And yeah, I know google is not the real world and not the place to search for medical, legal or any other kind of specialized advice. But on the other hand, I've encountered this same problem on so many places, in so many forums, and I've never got anyone to actually point out an actual lawsuit against an author that has been won by the suing party on the sole grounds of someone being able to recognize himself somewhere in a book. If it is practically illegal to put a real life situation, a real person, a real place etc in a work of fiction, I doubt there would be anything out there in libraries but works of pure fantasy!

    Not to mention the fact that I can't imagine a real world legal system which prohibits fictionalization and/or "literalization" of reality! It would be a nice idea for a dystopian setting however :cool:

    The point is: if OP wants to write about the real world, there is no point of scaring her in advance. When she finishes her work, shares it with others, talks to a publisher and actually gets to publish her work, then she should talk to the publisher to get things straight from the legal point of view.
     
  19. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, if you look back at my first post in this thread, I was focused far more on the crux of her problem, which is that the impetus to write the story at all seems to be from a family member. That's a heavy enough burden to carry into a writing project. So, when considering the pros and cons, before committing to what would surely be a long-term project, I would think one would want to know just what one was getting into. After all, imagine spending a couple of years on a project and then finding out there were legal issues! And, if she decided to go the route of self-publishing, there would be no publisher to provide legal guard rails.

    Better to have all the facts up front, I'd say. YMMV.
     
  20. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Let's bear in mind, as well, that lawsuits carry financial and emotional costs regardless of how far they get or who wins. Which is why any legal talk on a writers forum means nothing to smart people - it's what their attorney tells them that matters.
     
  21. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    I still don't get it: what is your advice? Don't write anything because someone, somewhere, sometimes may find it offensive? Sorry if I sound too cynical, but I'm just completely puzzled.
     
  22. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    MY advice was for her to consider carefully if it was really something she wanted to write, since the idea did not appear to be hers but rather her grandmother's. Because it has been my experience that the only writing projects that get brought to completion are those in which the writer is fully emotionally invested.

    MAMMAMAIA'S advice was for her to consult with a literary attorney if she thought she wanted to move forward, to be sure that she was not putting herself at risk if other people were involved.

    What's not to get?
     
  23. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    I completely agree with that!!! However, there is nothing like that in your first post! Maybe you wanted to write that, but your original post was deleted or something, whatever...

    Which is a sound advice as any other. But still, as I wrote above, this is common place, as common as the good ol' "Show Don't Tell" advice. And still: very little real world examples of this kind of lawsuits.
     
  24. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you want real world examples, I would suggest you comb through court records in the various jurisdictions to find them. Because others of us here haven't done so does not mean it's an impossibility, or that it's a remote possibility. Googling will certainly find a myriad of discussions about this issue, so I don't think it's being overblown.

    No one is saying the memoir shouldn't be written. What's being said is to talk to an attorney in this field so the author knows what the courts have held to be permissible, not only in terms of libel and defamation, but invasion of privacy. I don't know why that should be seen as problematic. Seems only sensible to me.
     
  25. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Um, maybe you should go back and try again. Here is my initial post in this thread:



    Which is a sound advice as any other. But still, as I wrote above, this is common place, as common as the good ol' "Show Don't Tell" advice. And still: very little real world examples of this kind of lawsuits.[/QUOTE]

    No, "show, don't tell" is a general bromide, hence not very useful. "Consult with a literary attorney if you are writing about someone else who is still living" is specific advice for a specific situation, and in this case was given by someone with decades of experience in the industry.

    Note to the OP: very sorry your thread got hijacked.
     

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