A to Z Challenge 2013

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Do You Ever Back Off?

The other day I was talking with a friend and she mentioned she was caring for a 16 year old girl with Fetal Acohol Syndrome (FAS). Evidently this girl was a foster child who had been born with this particular disease, but I never did find out what became of her mother (nor was I going to ask). For those unaware, FAS happens when the pregnant mother drinks alcohol. The child is born with the possibility of all sorts of problems, from low birth weight to facial abnormalities to organ disfunction. If you want to know more, you can read all about it here (which is where I went to find out more).

My first thought upon hearing about this child was how incredibly difficult her life must have been so far, dealing with the repercussions of her mother's actions during pregnancy. Sixteen years of a life dominated by this debilitation. My youngest son was with me at the time, and (after we walked away) I took the opportunity to talk to him about it, let him think about how lucky he is to be completely healthy.

In my mind however, I was thinking about this girl's story and what her life might have been like up to now. I considered briefly trying to write something similar, a tale involving a young person like this who is born with FAS. But I decided it was too close to home for my friend, and I wasn't sure they would receive something like this in a positive light (assuming I was able to tell the tale well enough to get published).

I've had this type of thing happen to me numerous times since I've become a writer. Ideas pop into my head about a story that might mirror real events around me or involve people I know, and (so far) I shy away from putting it down on paper. My concern has always been that the real people would take offense or be hurt by putting their private tale out in the spotlight, so to speak. Even if I am changing the names and details, I'm always concerned that feelings might be hurt.

Have any of you ever written something like this, where your inspiration stems from real events around you? How do you write a story like this - keeping it realistic and true to life - without causing pain? Have you ever backed off from writing a story because you were worried about the implications to those involved?


Lost Wanderer said...

I have never had this problem, but I do know what I would do if I did.

Unless you want to write a memoire (with relevent people's permission), you shouldn't go for their story, even with names, place changed because it will still be obvious. But you could write about FAS. Explore it from a different angle.

If your friend has a foster daughter, you could make your protagonist a child who perhaps still lives with the birth parents/mother. Does that mother feel guilty now for being the cause of her child's suffering, or is she still just as careless? You could give that child healthy siblings, or an adult friend who has lived with FSA for longer.

My point is that you don't have to give up on a wider idea, just make the story your own.

Jamie D. said...

Ditto what LW said. I get a lot of ideas from "real life"...but I morph them so much that only the very tiniest speck of the original idea remains, and it becomes more of a "this could happen to anyone" thing than something that happened to a specific person/family. Believe me, I'm sure your friend has read stories both fictional and non about FAS children before. They're out there.

Ask yourself, "What if this story happened to someone else - another girl (or boy) out there living with this condition? What is *that* person's story?" It's that fictional person's story you can write.

And you might also talk to your friend about your idea - tell her your concerns, and ask what she thinks. Most people who care for others with specific medical conditions want to get as much information about it out there as possible - she may just end up being your biggest resource, even for a fictional work.

jjdebenedictis said...

I think it's NEVER a good idea to let yourself be scared out of writing a story.

If the situation moves you, then let that story out. And if you're worried about how your friends and loved ones will react to it (more on that in a moment), publish the story under a pseudonym.

That said, Stuart Neville notes in this post that including people he really knows in his novel, even in tiny bit roles, did not go over well with those people.

If you are basing your story on real people, disguise it well, and fictionalize as much as you can while keeping the emotional heart of the story intact.

Don't be afraid to write it, however. If you find this story powerful, others will too, and many of them will be glad to have their life issues (if not their actual lives) represented sensitively in a work of fiction.

Abby Annis said...

I've never been in a situation like this, but I agree with jjbenedictis. If you're passionate about it, you should write it. It sounds like you don't have a lot of personal details about this girl, so most of the story would have to be fictionalized, anyway. Just my thoughts. Good luck!

Erica said...

Some good comments here. I think it's okay to flesh out an idea, but I agree with LW and Jamie, that you should look at it from a new perspective. See what develops, ideas are a dime a dozen, it's what you do with them that matters the most ;o)