The other evening I was teaching a workshop on Memoir Writing – not exactly fiction, but memoir reads like fiction. A participant said she was scared to name names of family members and wanted to know how to get around this.
You can turn the memoir into fiction – this has been done before. Or use pseudonyms with a disclaimer. Or be scrupulous about what you include.
Or you can do what I did after a confrontation with a relative who definitely didn’t want something in the family background getting published. The excuse was she didn’t want her children reading about it. However, she was okay with it all being fictionalized.
So I listened to her, although maybe not exactly as she meant it. In my mystery short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press. 2012), one story is based on something that happened in my family – although except for the central event, all the characters have been changed and so have the circumstances. However, I was so ticked off with her attitude that I loosely based one of the suspects in one of the stories on her. I changed the details but when I see this character I see the complaining relative.
As for the memoir chapter she was complaining about – I did remove it – and several other chapters because at the same time another author and I did a manuscript evaluation exchange. He said I had three stories going on in the memoir – family history, some other history, and my personal story. My personal story was more interesting – so that was the new focus.
In my mystery novel Beyond Blood (Blue Denim Press 2014), I don’t use any stories from the original memoir, although Great Aunt Doris is very loosely based on an eccentric aunt (now deceased). However, the eccentricities are different as are Aunt Doris’ actions and role. The only similarities, if you will, are the two are eccentric and both are aunts.
However, I did use something in my past as fodder and then used my imagination to expand from there. The business with the raccoons. Racoons got into the attic of my house in Aurora and that was the real life starting point. But I assure you, except for racoons on the roof, anything else with racoons that happens in Beyond Blood never happened in real life, mine at least.
The bottom line is to use something real as the catalyst, the gem for an idea or character. Because you need to be careful here. How often have readers said that a character reminds them of so-and-so or the character is so-and-so? Usually this is not the reality.
But it is an indication that your story, your characters are resonating with your readers.
Sharon A. Crawford
To watch my interview on Liquid Lunch on thatchannel.com go to Go to http://youtu.be/i2bBaePIWgY and enjoy.