1. Nervous1st
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    Nervous1st Senior Member

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    writing a tribute. WARNING - Sensitive Topic

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Nervous1st, Feb 26, 2009.

    Hi everyone,

    I am starting on my first novel. I have written bits and pieces before, mainly in my private journals but i've never committed to a major project. Could I please ask your opinions on the following?

    I am writing a tribute to my best friend. It's about her struggle to overcome trauma in her childhood. The story starts with years of sexual abuse at the hand of her Mother’s De facto Husband. Does anyone have any advice on how to write the details of the abuse? Should I lead the reader and then allow them to fill in the blanks or should I allow more detail to really push the reader to hate him as much as I do?

    The problem is, the details are not really relevant, the moral of the story is not what happened but how she moves on. I don’t want the reader (or my friend) to feel too uncomfortable but at the same time I don’t want to minimize or play down the extent to which she was hurt both physically and emotionally. Are there any ‘rules’ to which I really should adhere to? Any advice would be much appreciated.

    I apologise for the sensitive topic.

    Thank you
     
  2. Paul_V
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    Paul_V Member

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    Try the non-linear approach. Don't start on the past and then follow chronologically to the present, start on the present and then have the character herself tell her own story. The excuses are a dime a dozen. Maybe someone is writing a book about child abuse and wants to interview her, maybe a recently-graduated psychologist/therapist is having problems with a patient and turns to her for advice, maybe she is old and writing her memoires. This way, you can obscure the details (she doesn't want to dwell too much on them) and she can focus on the way she managed to pull through.

    I would advise you to get your hands on some psychology textbooks to get an idea of how most people react to traumatic events, and what's likely to happen.
     
  3. iolair
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    iolair Active Member

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    My instinct: In your first draft, write the accounts of what happened in full detail, at least for one incident. When you rewrite/edit, work out how much (in the context of the whole you should then have) needs to be left in.

    Two ways occur to me that you could write the incidents: firstly from the point of view of the victim, concentrating on her feelings, reactions and thoughts as they take place, or secondly in a clinical, impersonal account - letting the bare details stand for themselves.
     
  4. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    You'd better see a literary attorney before you write anything about her. Secure whatever disclaimers and permissions the attorney suggests. This is a minefield. Even if she doesn't mind you writing about her, what if she fell into a coma and you suddenly found yourself sued by her family or guardian because you have no legal permission to expose her life issues. See an attorney!
     
  5. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    If all the gory details are not essential, don't write them. Besides, it's often the details you leave out, not the ones you include, that leave the bigger impact on the readers. In a WW1 novel I once read, the author talked about feeling how fat a rat was, and thinking about why, but gives no details about why it was so fat. That was far more disturbing than actually describing what the rat was eating.
     
  6. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    As was suggested, I'd try reading some on the subject first. This includes not only psychology texts (to understand the nature of trauma), but other books (novels and memoirs) on abuse and abusive relationships, to see how other writers pulled it off--whether they were graphic in their presentation, or vague. I can't say which approach you should take because either one can have its pros and cons, but at least if you read up on the subject first you'll see what those pros and cons are, and which approach suits your story.

    One question--if it's a book about recovery and moving on, why is one of your goals to make the reader "hate" the abuser...? Is it a recovery tribute or a way of venting at somebody you despise? While I understand there will be negative emotions involved, a "moving on" tribute has little room for hatred, IMO. You might need to mull over your motives for writing the story a little more. Maybe you're too close to the subject to pull off an inspiring recovery tribute without it being filled with hatred and malice. That's NOT necessarily a bad thing, it just means you might end up with a book much different from what you'd wanted.
     
  7. TwoToTango
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    TwoToTango Member

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    Well, first of all you should ask your friend what she thinks about you writing about her abuse, in depth that is. And make sure she realises the book could eventually get published and everybody who knows her will know that she has been abused. She might not want that. And make sure your friend never had any plans of writing her story herself. Of course, I'm sure you've already talked to her about all that. But one can never be too sure.

    As for the question at hand. It all depends on what you and your friend prefers, do you want a more poetic and suggestive description or a matter of factly and clear description? Personally, I would barely have any details of the abuse at all, only enough to let the reader know what was actually going on. In other words, I would go for the poetic and suggestive version.
     
  8. Roxie
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    Roxie Active Member

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    I get that hatred is a part of the road to healing and I understand where you are coming from but your friend is possibly the only person who can truly tell you how she wants her story writen/told. Draft it out in various styles: full details, clinical, prosaic etc. Then show your friend the material - let her decide.
    Good luck.
     
  9. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    What has moved you the most when people tell you a story? When they don't share much of their emotions, but tell the story in great detail. He smashed my face, blood was everywhere, etc. Or when they don't give much details, but they express how they felt?

    Why did he do this? Was it my fault? Am I really that horrible? After he hit me, I curled up on the bed, gripping my pillow, wishing he would die, wishing I would die. I kept thinking, no one loves me. I'm not worthy to be loved. My body hurt, but I couldn't really feel it over my painful thoughts. Once again, I cried myself to sleep.

    I think for me it might be a mixture of both, but I want more of the feelings than of the details.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I'll echo NaCl's recommendation that you look into the legal aspects first. How you write it means little if you haven't determined WHETHER you should write it. With a non-fictional piece like you are describing, you should have permission in writing before beginning, and you have to be concerned about possible litigation by anyone (or surviving relatives) who is portrayed in what THEY might see as an unfavorable matter.

    If you are sued for libel, the legal burden is upon you to prove the truth of your assertions; they don't have to prove it is NOT true.
     
  11. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Out of respect for my fellow members, I make it a policy not to directly confront others' advice. However, TTT's suggestion to talk it over with the "friend" is simply not the right advice. I apologize to TTT and any others if my following comments offend, but they NEED to be heard.

    Writing this biography is a minefield of liability. For example: in addition to the "friend", an author could need to obtain permission from every person, and possibly their heirs if dead, whose identity might be represented or even surmised in the book. This is especially true if descriptions in the story cast derision on others. It is absolutely necessary to consult with a literary attorney for advice on consent agreements, guidance during the writing and possible protection from lawsuits after it is published (or distributed in any manner . . . even copies of the manuscript can be libelous.)

    Don't take ANY writing advice on this matter from well-intended members above. Stop your work on this project until after you talk with counsel. By the way, who can be sued over such a book? Answer -- a crapload of "deep pockets", making the likelihood of lawsuit even greater. Those pockets include the person who tells "her" story, the author or any ghost writer who crafts the manuscript, the literary agent, the distributor, the publisher and all outlets that promote the book. See the damn attorney!

    This is the last I will say on this issue. Good luck.
     
  12. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Naci, I have often wondered how some novelist have got the permission of all the people.

    For example, The Shoe Maker. It is about the serial killer Joseph Kallinger. I know he agreed to have it published, shoot, he practically wrote it. It is all from his POV. However, I doubt his children would have agreed, especially his son Michael, because of how Michael is portrayed. I can't believe Michael roams freely under a new identity. It seems odd that other real individuals in the novel would have agreed to appearing in it as well.

    I am pretty sure changing their names would not be enough to avoid a lawsuit. Are there loopholes or something?
     
  13. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Truth is an absolute defense against libel. Nasty people can be shown for what they are, as long as the derogatory comments are completely true . . . and can be proven as true. For example, two men get into a fistfight. Police arrive and ask who hit first. Both men claim the other hit first. Who goes to jail? Neither, or both. But, a passerby happened to see the whole incident and he tells the officer which man threw the first punch. Now that the truth can be verified, only one guy goes to jail. Yeah, yeah, I know . . . they were probably both drunk and disorderly so it shouldn't matter who swung first and they both deserve to go to jail. But, you get my point. "Daddy molested me when I was thirteen." Wow! Prove it! Or, watch out for a libel claim.

    Consequently, if everything in a novel exactly reflects the truth and the truth can reasonably be verified, then no competent attorney would represent a libel case against the truth-teller. In fact, if a lawyer was found to knowingly prosecute a false claim, disbarment could result. Therein lies the need to consult a literary attorney. This legal professional can provide guidance, not only in the beginning with appropriate consents and documentation, but also in reviewing the manuscript to make sure the "writing" meets defensible legal standards.

    In similar published biographies like you mentioned, readers simply pick up a book and marvel at the horrible events in the story. We never learn how much legal attention was paid to the writing or making certain that representations in the story are completely accurate and defensible in court . . . hence, no lawsuits. But, it all comes back to that literary attorney.

    I don't have time to discuss this matter any further, so I'll leave for good this time. Hope this information helps.
     
  14. Nervous1st
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    Nervous1st Senior Member

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    Hi everyone,

    Thank you very much for all your replies, there has been some great advice. I really appreciate it.

    I just wanted to reply to a few posts on the legal issues. I wasn't clear in my OP so since I will be working on this novel for a while and posting questions, I feel I should clear any misunderstandings.

    Yes, I am writing a tribute to my best friend however the story will not be the same, it is BASED on her story but the details will be very different. Only she will know it is a tribute to her. My friend was abused as a child and now she has recovered, fallen in love and is getting married. My character was also abused as a child, has recovered, found love and will get married. Their lives will be different, my character is not my friend. My characters lover is not my friend’s lover. There will be things included in my story that were never part of my friends life and vice versa. They are different ages, they have different names and live in different places.

    My point is, my character is going to be proud of how far she has come, my character is loving, giving and compassionate to others despite her pain. Most importantly my character will forgive, will love and trust again just as my friend did. My friend will be able to relate to my character but yet they will be different. In the end all I want is for my friend to know that I love her and I am proud of her.

    Once again... Only my friend will know. To everyone else this is simply fiction.

    Thank you for all the other advise, I have taken it all on board. If anyone can still see a legal issue, please let me know and I will stop writing at once.

    Thanks again everyone.
     
  15. lipton_lover
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    lipton_lover Contributing Member

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    Definitely ask permission first. Once you do that, I have a couple suggestions.

    I hear all too often that details should be omitted unless they assist the plot. But to me, it's more important to communicate with the reader, to cause them to feel emotions. In this case you either want them to be angry with him, or if you give him a sad background story you can make them sympathetic.
    Also, someone else mentioned non-linear. With a life changing event, I do prefer the style where they're in the future, and have revealing flashbacks until the reader finds out why they are like they are, for instance if your friend becomes suicidal later on. I know this suggestion doesn't take into consideration how the true story may have played out, but it's still there if you want it.
    Good luck, Nate
     

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