Writers looking for a unique, original idea should look no further than their own family, which has its own unique conflicts, characters and settings.
Writing for family can be fun, but writing about family can be an emotionally exhausting process. Many writers don't take advantage of family history and events in their writing because of a fear of what the family may think or how family members may react to seeing their histories and themselves in the writer's stories. It's important for writers to understand that writing about family doesn't need to be a difficult chore. Here are some tips for writing about family without alienating family members.
Combine Family Members to Create New Characters
When writing fiction, writers can based characters on any number of family members, combining qualities of different members to create an entirely new, unique character who won't necessarily offend family members. A goofy uncle who drinks heavily and listens to country music? Simply take his goofiness. An overweight aunt who collects junk and stores it in one big room? Take her junk collecting qualities. A grandmother who lives out in the country and is convinced President Obama is a secret Muslim? Take her conspiracy theory.
Now combine these qualities. Create a character who enjoys collecting junk, acts goofy and enjoys passing around conspiracy theories. This new, unique character has been based on family members but isn't so recognizable that the character may offend any particular family member. For physical characteristics, writers can look outside of family.
Every Family's History is Unique and Useful for Writers
No two families have the same history. Writers can take advantage of this by digging through family history and records to see what has made their family unique. The events that happen in a family and the trials each family go through can be experiences that readers will not only enjoy reading, but also find useful in their own lives and dealings with family. Writers should express this to family members who are hesitant to see their "dirty laundry" aired on the written page.
Some of the best writers in fiction have used traumatic family experiences to craft important, far-reaching novels. Louise Erdrich's Shadow Tag is a great example. The events that happen in Erdrich's novel are based on her experiences in her own close family and she's not afraid to use it.
Write Non-Fiction When the Story Needs the Facts
When deciding whether to write a fiction or non-fiction story about family, writers should ask themselves how many of the facts are necessary to send the correct message to readers. If the family event that took place needs to be portrayed just as it happened, then writers should not try to fictionalize the story, even if it means alienating some family members. When it's possible to "hide" family members by creating new characters, or if the facts need to be tweaked in order to convey a stronger message, then writers should create a fictional work.