When My Autofiction Involves Real People

I lost friends when I was younger because I shared their secrets.

Being seen as a big mouth was possibly the most shameful experience I have ever had. So I mean business when I go to write a story that involves real people, private people.

Currently, I have a personal story to tell. This story shares an important part of my growth as a young adult, and it involves another woman, also, then, a younger adult over thirty years ago. Although it is “autofiction” (a memory masked with fictional details) and the truth-lines are purposefully blurred, I still have to consider her experience with the story being told, on paper or online, offered up to the public like a  fountain in the town square.

Maybe I just won’t tell her it’s out there? No one will care except her. Readers won’t know, and they won’t ask. I would just love to not even consider her feelings, period.

I still have a story to tell. Plus, I’d like to think I can tell it really well, in a way that people will appreciate. This story explores the common inner psyche of two college girls, the inevitable struggle of their brokenness, and the stark contrast between hopeful ambitions and the crushing invisible pain they each carry. Then there is the fact that young women in the 1980’s were fantastically complex, angry, and vulnerable, all at once. You see, it is timeless and universal.

However, the woman in my story might read the story, and she wouldn’t like it because she was (and likely still is) real and flawed. On top of that, she was and always will be a deeply private woman, a proud woman.

I am not so private with my past. I am a relatively unapologetic woman. Shameless. Resolved. Content. Consequently, how I might be portrayed in anyone else’s story would have less power over me. I have a great capacity to forgive myself for poor behavior thirty-plus years ago.

She is not me. Frankly, it would be arrogant of me to expect her to be as dismissive, or as impenetrable as me.

I have a very real compassion for her struggles, and her choices, and even her cruelties. I view us quite objectively and heavy on the love, as I do with most people. Still, the story is the story, and readers will judge it according to their own lens.

I guess I had better adjust the telling and identifying details. I had better adjust them considerably. To learn more about writing autofiction, check out https://www.janefriedman.com/the-how-when-and-why-of-writing-autofiction/!

I want to – no – I need to tell this story. Nonetheless, at what point can the people of my past trust me to have integrity? Trust is, in my experience, a one-time thing. Can they trust me to hide the truth for their comfort? I’m not so sure.

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