Family Fallout

As you know, I’m working on my first adult novel.  My main character is a woman who had an abusive family.

I find myself facing a dilemma.  The story isn’t autobiographical, but I’m using some of my own experiences in it.  I guess in a sense I’m fictionalizing nonfiction events.  Both of my parents are dead and aren’t here to defend themselves.  My siblings are all alive, and a couple of them are the basis for my main character’s cruel siblings.

You see where this is going?

I have no relationship or connection to the siblings in question, having gone no contact several years ago.  There is a chance, however, that once I publish this book they’ll read it.  I expect quite the s**t storm.

Now, one could argue that if they see themselves in the characters in my book, that’s entirely their problem.  As the T-shirt says, “If you didn’t want to end up in my novel, you should have been nicer to me.”  On the other hand, I’m not writing a revenge piece.  As a writer, I’m using what I know about life to flesh out my character.  I’ve made some changes to the circumstances my character lives through and have sometimes consolidated events or changed who was responsible for them.  In the book, the character suffers primarily emotional and psychological abuse.  There is only the suggestion of physical abuse.  Quite frankly, I didn’t feel like including it because the emotional and psychological were much more damaging to me. Bruises on the skin heal eventually.

I’ve made a point of making sure my main character is as emotionally damaged as you would expect her to be.  She isn’t a warm and fuzzy person.  Rather than cowing her and making her mouse-like, what she suffered has hardened her and given her something of a prickly personality.  I’m trying to find ways to soften her or at least make her more sympathetic.  If I were a shrink, I would say I was searching for some good in myself after a lifetime of being told I’m not worth anything.  Pathetic, right?

What do you think?  Is it all truly grist for the mill?  What are the boundaries, or do they even exist?

Writing this character has brought up memories of things I’d long forgotten; and of course, my view of things is decidedly one-sided.  I don’t want to hurt any feelings.  I don’t want to make a bad situation worse.  I just want to write a story that rings true.  A happy family situation wouldn’t fit the story I’m writing.  The abuse needs to exist.

Where do you, as an artist, draw the line?


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