Do you tell people you are writing about them?

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gettingby

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I am working on shorter memoir pieces for now, writing mostly personal essays. Obviously, I am writing about my life and the people in it. My question for you guys is do you tell people you are writing about them? I'm not trying to be secretive, but I do worry that people might alter or try to alter our interactions or relationships if they know they are the subject matter of my latest piece. Just wondering how you all handle this aspect of memoir writing.
 

Gringa

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I predict this question alone will get a lot of views.

I've asked my main characters if it's okay to write about them and they're on board. I felt it was the decent thing to do before I proceed any further. A clear conscience goes a long way.
 

mccardey

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I don't write memoir, but I would love to write a book about what happens when a writer tells the family she's writing a memoir. And they're in it.

ETA: Ok - that's my next book. No-one else write it, ok? :D

I did have an awkward moment though, when I gave a copy of last book to someone who said "I've been wanting to read it! You said you based Character X on me, right?" And I had. Only character X had morphed into Loud Angry Drunk Lady. As indeed did friend, after reading it.
 
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Gringa

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And here's another point of view.

The other day I was chatting with a friend. She tells me she wants to do a one-woman show - wants to use things I've shared with her. WHOA NELLY! My hair went up on my back. I jumped in with "oh no you won't. Find your own stories. I'll tell on myself, thank you."
 
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Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

If you're comfortable talking to the people in your memoirs, do so. It's common courtesy. If you're not, change their names...unless they're in the public domain (school teachers, celebrities, politicians, etc). You can use names of the dead without qualms. They can't give feedback, nor sue for libel.

I asked family to read over any passage in my memoir in which they appeared, got lots of useful feedback. This is especially helpful for getting the details right. I did this with a bunch of other people too. Only one person insisted I remove him/her/it/whatever (I'm really honoring the request by hiding the gender), and I did, except that the person's rule in my story couldn't be hidden, so I included the role with no indication that the person was otherwise important to me at all and with no personal clues.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

veinglory

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Maybe write it first and then decide what you need to do. 9therwiseyou are telling people to worry about how they might be portrayed in a piece that doesn't exist yet. When it exists, if it identifies them, if you want to tell them, at least then you will be able to show it to them.
 

Jim Williams

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Perhaps not entirely unrelated to your question, a couple of years ago I took a photo of my brother and sister-in-law sitting in the open on the top deck of the ferry to Alcatraz. Since they were sitting in a crowd, a number of unrelated people ended up in the photo with them. I didn't ask any of them about permission about anything, and no one bothered to object.

(I'll add perhaps I had no objections because everyone gathered I was only taking a private photo, and not one to be published.)


I wonder if anyone you don't contact, like my not asking permission to be include in the photo, may offend someone who ends up being in the work out of their control?

I include contacting those whom I'm going to name, and not contacting those whom I'm only define by a role.
 
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Gringa

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Only one person insisted I remove him/her/it/whatever (I'm really honoring the request by hiding the gender), and I did, except that the person's rule in my story couldn't be hidden, so I included the role with no indication that the person was otherwise important to me at all and with no personal clues. Thanks for bringing this up. ....

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

I include contacting those whom I'm going to name, and not contacting those whom I'm only define by a role.

What do you mean by "only define by a role?"
 

Jim Williams

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What do you mean by "only define by a role?"
Naming someone only in the role they played, for example, "bartender", instead of by their real name. Everyone else has their real name, which to me isn't a role. I'm not clear about made-up names, but would tend to think of them as roles.

Everyone in the photo I took of my brother and sister-in-law had a role, "passenger", except for my brother and sister-in-law, who had real names. They were just, blank and blank, which I don't think of as a role. It's also based on being a memoir, which while having a plot, is also based on real facts and real names, before roles.
 
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Gringa

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I'm not clear about made-up names, but would tend to think of them as roles.

For a memoir the name can be fake yet still be considered real - the truth. This is what I understand.
 
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khobar

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Write the book first, then decide. Your concerns about people wanting to alter stuff is accurate, but also consider that their POV might be helpful, especially if your memoir is written from a highly charged emotional state. For example, you might be inclined to write that Joe was a butthole, and the reader is left to go just on your word. However, if you talk to Joe he may remind you of why he was a butthole, and you can then leave out the direct accusation and, instead, fill in those reasons. Now the readers will understand exactly. ;) On the flipside, you might discover that your opinion of Joe was tainted, and in retrospect he might not have been as bad a butthole as you originally remember. Either way, your memoir will be more honest with more showing, less telling.

As for other people, unless you feel their input will actually help with the writing or the selling, I don't think it's necessary.

But here is an article that might be helpful: http://www.writersdigest.com/writin...ublished-sell-my-work/defamation-and-invasion
 

gettingby

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I'm not writing a book. Right now I am writing personal essay type memoir pieces which I would like to try and get published. I have had a little success in the area (very little but still some). In the past, I have not certain people that I am writing about them, and, honestly, they never read it even after publication. I did tell one guy that I was thinking of including him in one of my essays. He was not against it but did say he felt like he had to watch everything he said because I might write about it. That could be true even if I didn't say anything. I guess I am leaning toward keeping my mouth shut for now. I'm just in the middle of a piece that seems to be unfolding as I write it. I think it's more that I wanted to tell this person about what I was writing just to tell him, not ask for permission. Thanks for your insight, guys.
 

Jamesaritchie

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Do you read many autobiographies and memoirs? Do you think even one percent of them would have been written had the writer told the people in it what he was doing? When you tell people you're writing about them, they will want to know WHAT you're going to say. This is bad, bad, bad idea.

It's your story, it's your life, and you have to perfect right to write about it, and everyone who has been in it. If you want to do this truthfully, and meaningfully, don't even think about telling people you're going to write about them.
 

Jamesaritchie

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For a memoir the name can be fake yet still be considered real - the truth. This is what I understand.

No, not really. A lie is a lie, and a fake name is a lie. As a reader, I have no way on earth of knowing whether you're telling the truth, or just making everything up, unless you give me real names, real dates, and real places that I can check out.
 

Jim Williams

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No, not really. A lie is a lie, and a fake name is a lie. As a reader, I have no way on earth of knowing whether you're telling the truth, or just making everything up, unless you give me real names, real dates, and real places that I can check out.

What if you explain in writing that the fake name is for someone else? I know I have a psychologist who doesn't want her name used, but what happened between us (not the dialogue) is important to the story. How do I mention what occurred to us without naming her?

Wouldn't my having to name her only apply if I was some noteworthy person?
 
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Bolero

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I like reading books that could be described as "all the oopsies that resulted from my moving to the countryside/a foreign country".
I saw in the introduction to one of those a comment from the author that you can tell on reading the book whether the author is still living in the area about which they are writing, by how blunt they are about their neighbours....

Another one, the author (a lady) started out with amusing columns on her life in the local paper. She badly upset the mother of her manfriend, because he'd spent a load of time sorting out the gates on her smallholding, and she then wrote a slightly tongue in cheek piece on the pleasures of a well hung gate. Didn't name any names but.....

Regarding James Archie comment on lies.
I read biographies and histories for ideally as balanced an account of events as can be achieved.
I read autobiographies to meet a person. I would hope they are not telling porkies, but people have different views of events and what one thinks is true, another doesn't. I have no problem if they change names to protect people or fudge their location.

I remember reading the Lamorna books - market gardening in Cornwall - and Derek Tangye gave his exact location. Fans of his books used to drop by to see him - which was nice - but they also took up a lot of his time and many were oblivious to hints that he had crops and animals to tend - he put that in some of his later books. There was also mention of people coming by, interrupting his work to tell him how much they loved his book and would get it out of the library and copy out passages they loved the best.

Memoirs to me are "events as I saw them". If it is a record of major historical events, by say the ambassador who was there, I'd be looking for mostly accurate names. But if there was reference to someone whose life could be endangered - as in MI6 - I'd expect that to be entirely fudged. Mr X is sometimes OK for me. It should be noted though that with something at Ambassadorial level, then there would be records which would be released many years after the events - and the memoir could be checked against it.

@ Jim - you could just say "my psychologist" unless that is too much of a give away.
Also, my tuppence worth is that I don't see that noteworthy persons have to name names any more than anyone else. :) And I don't go checking up on names, so I'm not fussed if they are fudged.
 
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Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! ("Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

The opera La Boheme should be added to that list, as well as the novel it's based on. (Thinly veiled account of the author's Bohemian friends.) Ditto La Traviata, which is based on Camille, by Dumas, who had a relationship with a similar woman.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

khobar

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No, not really. A lie is a lie, and a fake name is a lie. As a reader, I have no way on earth of knowing whether you're telling the truth, or just making everything up, unless you give me real names, real dates, and real places that I can check out.

Changing a name, date, place, time, hair color, or other specific detail that does not change the truth of the event you are talking about is actually necessary at times - for the very reason you mention. Ironic that. ;)
 

gettingby

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I told this guy I sort of have a thing with that I had written about him. He said, "You better get it published," without asking anything. I also let my mom read something about her. She said she had thought she would get more emotional than she did. Should I be worried no one is worried about what I might say? Does anyone really think I might get published or are they just okay with it because they think it's my little side project?

I wasn't going to say anything, but I have been working so hard and wanted to tell some of the close people in my life what I am doing.
 

khobar

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I told this guy I sort of have a thing with that I had written about him. He said, "You better get it published," without asking anything. I also let my mom read something about her. She said she had thought she would get more emotional than she did. Should I be worried no one is worried about what I might say? Does anyone really think I might get published or are they just okay with it because they think it's my little side project?

I wasn't going to say anything, but I have been working so hard and wanted to tell some of the close people in my life what I am doing.

Could be they simply trust you enough to be fair.
 

thedark

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I just wanted to chime in and say that when I started considering writing about the four years I was held against my will, I very carefully asked my brother how he'd feel about it. Not just about being part of that story, because he was part of my life, but about the exposure it might mean and the impact it might have on him or his family.

It was a good talk. Brought us closer. And he offered to help -- add his recollections and a counter point to mine, for he surely experienced an entirely different life those years.

And because the people I escaped from are still out there, and still looking, damn straight I'll use alternative names. Even places. I do ask myself what a fact-checker would do with that, but there's really no other way for me to write about it. I either stay silent, or I find a way to tell the story that doesn't put my family in danger.

For the people that weren't involved as bad guys, but might have been in a position to help, but didn't, I won't use names. Nice generic terms like "doctor" will do nicely, and besides, I don't know very many of their real names at all. I can only describe what happened from my point of view, and even now, I have very little corroborating evidence to go with such a memoir.

And that's okay; for it's true to the story I'm trying to share.

What's true to your story? Do you need names? Do you need exact, real-life names?

I understand, too, about wanting to share your work with the people closest to you. Just try and figure out if the people you have in mind would be receptive to what you are writing, and if what you are writing paints them in a good light.

I'm not sure I can ever share my story with my brother. Both for the things he doesn't know, and for the things he did that brought me harm. He doesn't need to know.

~ Anna
 

Raison

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Many of the characters in my memoir are deceased, but I have told my living siblings that I'm writing a memoir. One sibling never listens to others when they talk, so I'm not sure she even heard me. One told me not to use her name; and the other told me she never wants to read it (too many bad memories), but she told her daughter that she wants her to read it. Yet another sibling passed away this year, and she was looking forward to reading it; I wish I had not been waiting for "perfection" before I let her read it.

I haven't yet told others outside my immediate family about my memoir, and I haven't yet decided how to approach the topic. I'll most likely change names and details, but based on what I've read, if a book is published and sells decently, it's pretty easy for someone to figure out who the characters truly are. I can change locations all day long, but it would be easy for anyone to figure out the real locations.
 

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