about genre, novel ?

by aspiring writer
(indianapolis)

Question: I have a story about my family's history. Personal events, things they don't want anyone to know. How can I use the true events, while threading some untruth in there, to hide obvious identifiers. How do I know when to put down the absolute truth (as I saw it), and when to embellish? I don't want to hurt anyone, or bring up bad memories, but I think the story needs to be told. And told as truthfully as possible. Suggestions?


Answer: It may be difficult to avoid hurting anyone's feelings. If your family reads the book, they will know exactly what events you are referring to and who you are writing about (unless you're writing about events that happened so long ago that the participants are all dead, and even then...).

If you want to write the truth about what happened in your family, then perhaps you should decide you are writing biography or memoir. (Of course, for this to be marketable, you either need to be famous or the events must have a noteworthy place in history).

There is some risk to this if your book shines a negative light on the reputation of someone in your family in a way that damages their career, so you may need to change all the names and perhaps places and call it a fictionalized biography. You may need to write under a pseudonym as well.

But even in this case, your family may get angry with you for spilling their secrets.

Another approach that can spare your relatives some embarrassment is write a completely fictional story that no one outside the family will know is based on real life.

To do this, you would depict the events accurately, or even exaggerate them, but change the people involved in the events. Don't base characters directly on members of your family. Create original characters who just happen to get caught up in situations that resemble things that happened in your family. Give the characters different backstories, physical descriptions, and personalities. (This is done all the time in fiction.)

But even then, you can't get around the fact that some of your relatives will read the book and recognize the events depicted.

No easy solution, I'm afraid.

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