AUTOBIOGRAPHIES – HOW MUCH DO YOU TELL?
I do a weekly column for www.letstalknevada. I’ll admit they’re autobiographical stories about my life, which started with us living overseas and evolved into just about everything. What started as a few goofy stories from Turkey ended up going back to when I first joined the Air Force, then working forward again. Since people enjoy them and the site wants me to continue, I figured I might as well start from the beginning and do my memoir on the cheap. No restrictions, no rules, just tell what I want. I have no publisher no editors except myself, and no restrictions on how I tell it except myself. That got me thinking about those of you considering, and those that have done memoirs.
How much do you tell, what do you tell, how do you limit yourselves and why?
The most compelling thing about doing an autobiography (same as memoir), is why are you doing one and what do you except to get out of it? Is it to make money, set the record straight, entertain people, set a legacy or a combination?
Unless you’re a celebrity or have a super-compelling life, the chances are you’re going to have a garage full of books. Your shot at landing a commercial publisher are slim if you don’t fit those two categories. I know I’m neither. I just got lucky with Let’s Talk Nevada. I happen to write in a way that makes the stories mildly interesting. That’s good enough to do without pay! I neither expect nor demand it. My legacy is more to entertain than for anything else. I’m not trying to set any record straight because I haven’t been wronged anywhere… well enough to compel me to tempt fate and lawsuits. I’m certainly no celebrity, though if any of my published books skyrocket in sales, well…even then, I’ll keep plugging along.
Why do you want to tell your story? Is it compelling? Will others buy it? Only a select few? Is it just for the legacy? Set the story straight? Once that whatever is decided, what and how much are you going to tell? What risks are you going to take? How much do you want to embarrass yourself, put yourself at legal risk or at the expense of hurting others?
Whenever anyone is relating a personal account of something that’s true, or basically true from their memory, whether exactly as they see it, or colored for entertainment purposes, there’s usually someone else involved. Because of that, there are issues of dragging someone else’s name into the equation. In this litigious world of ours, are you ready to get sued? What constitutes sue-worthy material or just being mentioned as a participant? How far can you go without crossing the line into slander?
How much do you tell, do you want to tell and how much do you change the real story to keep it real yet keep you safe from the others coming after you. Do you even need to worry about it?
Depending on the particular story, you can tell most things without, or by just changing the names of the others. In some cases, especially if the stories are complimentary and non-controversial, you can use real names.
In my stories, unless they’re already a celebrity or a family member, I change the names, unless I have explicit permission from them to use their real names. Since I’m not making any money from this autobiography, there are no funds involved either.
Famous or infamous incidents can get dicey. If you were involved in something newsworthy or something say…classified as in military, would that be something to tell? How about something legal? How can you talk about it without getting your butt in a wringer? How much far can you go? What if your whole autobiography is based on that one incident?
I guess it’s time to hire a bevvy of lawyers on that one!
With my stories, I’ve had a lot of stuff I can’t talk about. There are so many things I’d like to tell about but either I can’t or won’t because of the possibility, no matter how remote, it might violate the uniform code of military justice. I won’t even go there. There are some civilian things I’ve been involved in that I won’t touch for similar reasons. How much do I tell? I know where I’d stop!
You have a new autobiography you’re dying to tell, but you start thinking of how much you can tell. Those nasty little limits get in the way. How far do you go? How much do you tell? You have to know your limits. Whatever your goal is, the last thing you want to do is end up in court! That’s where you may need to bone up on your research, legal or otherwise.