When you write creative non-fiction, people hate you. It is inevitable because your material is everything nobody wants discussed. Or just everything in life, in general. You bring real-life situations into a creative environment and share parts of your life that some people do not want shared. It brings agreements and disagreements, but at the end of the day, they are the writer’s stories, no one else’s. And they are just stories.
One of my favorite writers, David Sedaris, was sued by his family for publishing stories about his real life that included characters reminiscent of his family members. They tried to get him for defamation of character. This is important because it outlined some serious guidelines and rules for the genre. His family lost their lawsuit because creative non-fiction is about the writer’s perspective on telling a story. And since our perspective comes from our own thought process and analyzation of the world around us, it is our own personal reality that cannot be questioned. What upsets people most is when they think something is about them, a target on their back of passive-aggressive behavior on behalf of the writer. But its not, its technique.
We often combine pieces of stories, and combine characters. So yes, while a character may be like you or someone you know, it is probably three different people in that writer’s life all wrapped into one-this is a literary device- a method to streamline and clarify our purpose to an audience. It also cloaks their identity so that the piece is less of a diary or recount, gives slightly more privacy but makes a character more interesting by using more complex traits because lets face it-us average people are not nearly as interesting and messed up as the characters we create by combining you with two other people. Sometimes objects, places, people, and things are also changed, exaggerated, or made up for storytelling aesthetics as well. This still qualifies a story as creative non-fiction. Some aspects of a story, like what I got for my birthday that year or what color shirt my dog was wearing that day at 9 am, are completely made up, because who remembers those things? But those details bring a story to life. It is all techniques.
When you are a writer, people jump to conclusions that every story, anecdote, and joke is a pun at them. Sometimes it is, but you would probably already know about it before reading a writer’s story, because often it is not. It is just a story, with a point that uses real life situations and characters reminiscent of real people to deliver a message. Not an attack on anyone.
Anyone that knows me, knows that I am not a quiet person. I will tell you I am sorry that I hate something given, taken, something done or said. I don’t use stories to start arguments with people I know. I start arguments all on my own, directly.
I am much more interested in watching comment wars from strangers who read the headlines of stories, not the actual stories, and run their mouths. Engagement of strangers is probably what makes a piece successful, not starting family wars because I combined crazy habits of three women in the family and wrote a story about it.
If you have a creative non-fiction writer in your family or amongst your friends, remember they are using techniques and writing vehicles to deliver a message, not write a rant about you, unless they are a really bad writer.