What would you do if you were asked not to share certain information in a story your heart has been set on?

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Post by Guest »

My dear great-grandmother, who passed away in the late 90s, was bipolar and I would like to tell her story. However, my father has asked that I don’t share this part of her life for fear of upsetting the family — primarily my great aunt—her daughter—who is now in her late 80s.

Whenever I’ve shared that I want to write a story about my family from back in the early 1900s (rookie mistake,) it is always met with kind support but everyone assumes it is going to be a whitewashed family history book… but my goal is to write about the real challenges people go through when no one’s looking, not just the nice bits. It will be fiction based on true events.

I will go through with this story but I’m not sure how to tackle it without hurting my family. Should I just change the names and places (which is ashame considering they were really good)?

What would you do?

Post by Sharon »

If you’re writing it as fiction there should be no issues. If there are names you love, reassign them to different characters if you can. That way it’s there, but still quite fictional. Do not sell the book as a true story. Sell it as a work of complete fiction that was inspired by the stories of your youth. Make sure the public sees it as fiction, even though your family will recognize that there’s a lot of truth there.

Post by Charlie »

I think it's is good to consider who will take damage from what you write. Especially when it is someone else's story. In your place I either wouldn't write it. At least not for now. I also wonder how well it will actually turn out to be if you are writing down what you remember from what others have said.

Post by Vivienne »

I would write the story anyway. I’m sure you great grandmothers bi polar didn’t define her and she was so much more than that. So, write it in a way that honours her memory. Many people have many undiagnosed syndromes, it’s possible to write them as whole characters without the label. Do the same with your great grandmother. See behind the label and write about the person.

Post by Rosemary »

I would start writing it and see where it goes. It might not be what you think it is. Plus it takes a long time for the book to get finished. I have been working on my for many years. Life has a way of taking my attention from it. You can always say you are writing about the family genealogy and want to explore it. See if your great-grandmother might like that ideal. Maybe you can get her to tell you what it was like when she was young growing up and what she thought of the world back then. There are so many ways to support your different points of view. Ask about her siblings, her parents, the type of neighbors that lived near by. Start by doing real genealogy and you could even talk with her about doing DNA testing. I tried different ones and like 23 and me the best. You have a wonderful treasure with those two ladies. Tell them you have changed your focus and you hope they will help you in exploring you ancestry. Was you great-grandmother born here or come from another country. There is so much you can explore. I tried to get my Great Aunt to share about her like, but she wouldn't. She was part Native American and was still afraid to talk about it. So step carefully. Let me know how you make out. Best of wishes.

Post by Shannon »

I’m bipolar. It’s not a moral weakness.
I’m no more embarrassed of it than I am of being a lefty!
Would anyone be humiliated if they had a heart problem? Cancer?
Of course not.
Tell the story. It’s not shameful.

Post by Victoria »

Further down I give specific examples underneath a trigger warning, no one has to read it, but it includes my experience with writing about family and how it can go badly.

If it is a work of fiction, you would change the names and places and most of the events anyway because otherwise it is not fiction and falls under biography. You can say "but I changed a few things, just not their names or the places they lived" but that is quite literally what a lie is and it isn't better than telling their true story despite family members asking you not to.

However, even with changing the names of people involved, as others have pointed out you can be sued if the story resembles a real-life person too much. You would need to also do a pen name and not tell them. They could still sue if they figured it out.

You can also be sued by your living family members for publishing a family member's story because the story isn't yours to tell. It was hers, and she isn't here to tell it. But she could have been sued for telling it if she mentioned someone else and they figured it out.

If you were to publish a non-fiction autobiography about how your relative's bipolar disorder affected you through generational trauma, you can be sued there too.

Also, even if you did it as a biography (which is a lot better than doing a fiction which resembles the truth too much) and you have records, such as medical or court records showing that you didn't make it up, you can still be sued.

None of this means they will win the lawsuit, just that being sued sucks and it is best avoided.

Now, to the more likely and deeper consequences: the damage to the relationship to your family if you publish a story you were asked not to publish. If they said it'll hurt them, humiliate them, or anger them, they are telling you the truth. Unless you have their written permission notarized you should not publish it. Now, you can write it. You can write anything you want, but when it comes to publishing it, everyone has to be okay with it or dead. I am not kidding. I have looked into this a lot. Plus, experience.


*Specific details of an accidental shooting. Nothing graphic, but it still might anger someone.

*Casual mention of horrible things such murder, suicide, severe mental illness, and my mom. Fortunately, I do not go into specifics about my mom, but she is a living, breathing trigger warning and I mentioned her.

Let me give you an example. My dad was shot in the face when he was 12. The gun used was a police officer's weapon that was left in his glovebox. My dad met that officer's son in a gun safety class; he was 17. They decided that after 2 safety classes, they could handle a .357 Magnum. They failed to check the chamber. My dad was shot, and he lost all vital signs on the table numerous times, but he survived. There were newspaper articles about the shooting because it was a big deal: police handgun not properly secured nearly kills kid in the 1970's. The boy who shot him was facing attempted murder charges, but my dad communicated in writing (his jaw was wired shut) that they were stupidly playing with the gun and it was an accident. This story was told to me so much that when I was 10 I wrote an article for a writing contest about it. And I won. It was published. It was a story by a ten-year-old who had no idea that their entire upbringing was not normal, so my dad is painted as a hero in that article. If I wrote it now, my dad would be painted in a more human light. But the newspaper sent out a journalist to do a follow-up interview when I was 11. My dad made casual mention of my grandfather being authoritarian and hitting him to keep him in line, essentially making fun of what a stupid, wild kid he was, and how normal it was to be beaten as a child. Our extended family was humiliated by that part of the article. My dad was proud of that first article I wrote and the interview until they made him cry. Which made me cry. No one remembers that I wrote a prize-winning article about my dad's survival, but they remember that interview that was brought up at church by the gossips.

After that, yeah, it became more obvious that generational trauma has had a huge impact on my family's dysfunctional nature, because we are all mentally ill. Abuse and neglect are the norm across at least 5 generations. Most of my immediate family are or were career criminals and have done time or are in prison right now. Psych hospitals are a bitch, I do not recommend them.

Truth be told I could write a tell-all book and make it onto best-seller lists and no one would sue me because my family hates court and lawsuits more than anything. But even though I write the story, if I were to ever publish it, it would be after most of them are long dead and the proceeds were set up in a trust to aid domestic abuse and neglect survivors. I couldn't look myself in the mirror if I profited or became famous from their misery somehow. I have a million genuinely interesting stories people would love to read, but it doesn't serve to do anything but potentially sensationalize, trivialize, or (worse) fetishize severe mental illness, shocking abuse, murder, suicide, and worse stuff still. I can tell my story of survival, but I have to do it without talking about any of them. So, I choose to talk about my physical disabilities, my misadventures with misdiagnosis, and the parts of my story they aren't in. Other than my tiny mom, I talk about her because I know almost nothing about her other than she is funny, really small, and incredibly violent. Prison moms, what can you do?

Post by Donna »

Write it anyway. Then after she has passed publish it. But first write it then you can read it to her. So often we are afraid to step on toes when the people we are afraid of hurting could care less.

Post by Christy »

What are the poignant moments that stand out to you from your grandmother's life? What are the moments that make it a story and not just a collection of facts?

Then take those moments, create a work of historical fiction, include what inspires you as a writer but design all new characters, etc.
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