What if your writing might hurt someone?

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, every writer has; “write what you know”. And sure, it’s a good piece of advice. If you write from your own life experiences, your writing is deeper, more authentic, more compelling. But what if you want to write about a bad life experience? One that involved the people in your life? One that might hurt the people in your life?

I write fiction. I can fictionalize certain events, change people’s names, etc. Even if I do those things however, the people who are close to me (or have been in the past) might recognize themselves. Some people might even recognize other people. And what if I’ve cast them in an unflattering role?

I know a lot of writers just don’t care. They figure if it happened to them, it’s fair game. They don’t worry about hurting others. But I do. I can’t help it. Even if some of these people treated me badly, I still worry. But I want to write about these things. And like I said before, if you draw on your own experiences, it makes your writing richer and more compelling.

In the end, I know I will write about some of these things. There is one subject that I might put off writing about for a few years. I think it’s still too fresh, still to hurtful. But everything else, well, I think I’ll have to just not worry so much. And with a little luck, the people who I’m writing about won’t recognize themselves!


5 thoughts on “What if your writing might hurt someone?

  1. I think we all bring a certain amount of our real life experiences into our writing, whether we are aware of it or not. The characters we write are often amalgamations of people we know, although I do try to mix it up a bit so no one can really recognize themselves – unless they come to me and ask why I haven’t used them in a story.

    When writing about historic figures, I try to put them in a good light in case their ancestors resent any implications of wrong-doing I might have presented about them – unless they were known criminals or renowned to be nasty individuals, of course.

    There are certain subjects I haven’t written about, mainly because of how I am afraid they will negatively affect those I know have gone through similar circumstances, even if I do change names. At some point, I might collaborate with them or at least discuss how they would feel if I touched on a particular subject in my writing for young people. Until then, there are things I will avoid. Some writers may not care, but I do. I guess it’s all about your own personal perspective.

  2. I deal with this just in commenting on blogs. I might have an experience that relates, but there’s a tiny chance the person in question might read about it. ACK!

    As for longer pieces, I figure the best thing to do is throw in some things that really do NOT belong to that person. Like a beard. On a character that in reality was a girl, but you happened to make a guy. If a person stands out for something OTHER than what you’re writing about, that’s what most people will focus on.

    Dumbledore was tall, had a long beard, wore half-moon glasses, and had blue eyes. That’s from memory. If he had been based on a real person (JK Rowling said somewhere that only one of her characters is, but it’s not Dumbledore), that person might have been short, brown eyed and clean shaven. The personality might be the same, but you couldn’t make them jive.

    That’s my two cents, at this point anyway. 🙂

  3. The great thing in fiction is you can always mix it up a bit so your characters aren’t exact replicas of living beings. Aunt B who may be a very masculine woman who likes to hunt buffalo could become neighbor Ralph who drives race cars. Neighbor Ralph may have all the traits of real Aunt B, but because you’ve changed the gender and the hobby, the real-life person may not pick up on the fact you may have used her for a basis for your character. You can always embellish or take away from real life stories. If the character trait fits, if the real-life story works, there are always ways to change and disguise it as fiction.

  4. Totally relate. A few solid ideas I have for writing projects involve the partial telling of true events in my life. I’ve completely held off on writing them because of the pain or objection other people would feel in recognizing themselves, even if I spin it as fiction. I’m convinced it will be my absolute best work, but I won’t start it because of this concern. A shame. Stuff I would really like to write about.

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