“Can My Family Sue Me?”

Hi Angela –

I have a million story ideas, many of them based upon my own wonderful (and dysfunctional) family or my wonderful (and dysfunctional) friends and relationships. I am scared to use this material, as I suspect the origin of my ideas will be obvious. How do you use this incredibly valuable and fascinating material without offending everyone you love?

Ah, yes. I get this question a lot. And then there are those relatives who assume that the “writer” in the family has loads of money hidden away and they just can’t WAIT to sue that writer to get to that stash. Funny how when people say they’re an artist, many assume they’re dirt poor. But if you say you’re a writer, people assume you’re loaded.

In my opinion, there are two things you should consider doing when writing about real people:

1. Change the names, appearances and maybe even genders of your relatives so they’re not recognizable by anyone who reads your stories. Also, change locations, place names, etc. to make the incidents harder to trace.

2. Use a penname to further protect your characters (friends and family) from detection, and yourself from a lawsuit.

You should always consult with an attorney if you feel your work may result in a lawsuit.