Writing about your family history (iv) … telling the truth? Or not?

Telling real stories as fiction…. You might have a fantastic story to tell about your family, but for various reasons (not just risking being cut out of the will!) you may have held back. If you want to write it, however, three are ways of disguising the actual people involved so no-one will guess or recognise them, and yet the bones of the story are there.

I shared this a while ago when thinking of things to write about when inspiration for total fiction deserts you… but thinking about writing family stories, there maybe some you are desperate to write but for personal reasons you can’t write them… but maybe you can!

  • Decide what part of the real story you want to use
    • is it the skeleton of the plot?
    • is it the characters?
    • is it a real setting?
    • is it a situation or event or series of events…
  • Decide on the disguise
    • if it’s just the bones of something real, there are all sorts of ways you can disguise what inspired you, changing characters, locations, sequence of events
    • if it’s the story of a person, change their details
      1. name (obviously!)
      2. gender
      3. age
      4. character (unless the story is dependent on the character – in which case you can change other aspects of them)
      5. appearance (of course! But think about ethnicity, religion etc. as well)
      6. their situation, class, family, background, work, fashion/clothes and so on
  • if it’s a personal story decide whether you are featuring in it – this might make it more difficult to change personal details of other ‘characters’; if you are you! You can, however, change yourself – as in the point above
  • change the time/date/era – bring a Victorian story into the present, change the swinging 60’s to the glam-rock 80’s, change the war in a war story, put the present back into the 90’s; summer to winter, spring and beginnings change to autumn and endings; a CND protest can be an anti-something else demonstration
  • change the location from anywhere to anywhere – even the effects climate and temperature might have on events can be changed, danger from flooding could change to danger from avalanches, trapped by flood water could be trapped by snow
  • decide on the tone or ‘voice’ of what you are writing; is it patently a disguised memoir, is it autobiographical and you just want to be discrete about other ‘characters’; is it seemingly a piece of fiction, is it a ‘maybe true, maybe not you decide’ piece of writing; is it just an episode in something else – a character/incident in a novel you are writing?

You might find your family story told in disguise takes on a life of its own, then you will have to decide whether to maintain the hidden truth, or continue in a completely fictional way.


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