Tag Archives: libel or slander

Autobiography: How To Do It


When my daughter was in school, she was friends with a very creative circle of kids. I adopted her friends as my extra children. To this day, I get called “Mom” by some, and it warms my heart.

Today those kids are grown.

One of them sent me an article that offers some excellent writing advice. The author of the article, Bushra Rehman, is on the staff of Poets & Writers and recently published her first novel. I have pulled selected tidbits from her article to teach us more about the craft of autobiographical writing.

For example, when writing autobiographical pieces, Rehman  says:

One of the drawbacks . . .  is that the people in your head are not imaginary. They’re real. They’re the people you love the most and are most afraid of losing.

The consequence of telling someone’s story is something to consider when writing about real people. Don’t let it prevent you from telling your story, but consider what options may be available to protect the privacy and dignity of humans you know.

One way around the obstacle is to fictionalize your story. Change names, locations and the facts enough to allow the source of your inspiration to remain anonymous. Doing so not only protects the person from exposure, it also protects you from legal liability for disclosing that which may be deemed private or libelous by a court of law.

Rehman also talks about the therapeutic benefits of writing autobiographical material:

The truth is you don’t know the shape your work will take until it is written. Yes, you may feel a burning anger in the beginning, but when you write the story, you might be surprised by the gentle and compassionate portrayals you create. The very writing of the narrative will transform you and your memories.

Finally, being closely tied to the people behind your characters may color your portrayals of  the dark elements of a story. Rehman has developed a technique to help her in that circumstance:

You never even have to publish. I trick myself every time by saying I won’t. It’s one way I’ve learned to be honest in my writing–by lying to myself.

I giggled as I read the article my daughter’s friend shared with me. She knows I am writing novels. Do you think she worries about appearing in a book as one of my characters? I will promise her here and now, she won’t. At least not in any form that even she would recognize.

Fair enough?