Congratulations, you’ve decided to write your memoir!
It was the most fascinating time of your life. Or – That time in your life you’d much rather forget. Or – Lessons were learned during those periods in your life. Not matter what your story, it is yours to tell. Memoir writing can take you through several emotional stages. It can be exhilarating, funny, soothing, or cathartic. It can even be a combination of any or all of these emotions and more.
There are many reasons why a person decides to write a memoir. A few of them are:
- You simply want to share an experience.
- You want to help others heal through your words and the situations you were subject to.
- You need some writing therapy. Putting the words on paper helps you deal with your past.
Whatever your reasons for writing a memoir, one thing very common among the writers is the looming question:
How do I portray certain people for who they were without getting into legal trouble?
Merriam-Webster’s definition of defamation:
def·a·ma·tion | \ˌde-fə-ˈmā-shən \
Definition of defamation
Defamation is when a person’s reputation is lowered in the eyes of the community and people are deterred from dealing with them as they normally would. The allegedly defamed person must prove that it is he/she who is portrayed in the book. They must be able to identify themselves by physical description, location, acquaintances, or other factors.
So how do you write your memoir without getting into legal trouble?
- Start with changing names and settings. Instead of writing about the small rural community you grew up in, set your story in the outskirts of a major city. Remember, changing up settings and details does not mean the incidents didn’t happen. It means you are doing your due diligence in protecting yourself from potential lawsuits. And it helps protect the reputation of innocent and guilty persons.
- Add a disclaimer such as: This memoir reflects the author’s recollections of his/her experiences in life. Some names, places, and characteristics have been changed. Some events may have been compressed and some dialogue may have been recreated.
- State facts. If your ex cheated on his taxes and you can prove it, he/she cannot sustain a defamation claim.
- More about stating facts. Your opinions are protected expressions. To an extent. If you express your accusation as, “I believe…”, or “In my opinion…” that does not give you legal recourse. Your opinions need to be relevant to your story and supported with evidence.
- Show the people you are writing about what you have written. Of course this cannot be done in all instances such as abuse, addiction, etc. But on occasion, someone may only ask that their real identity not be revealed.
With all of that being said, write your memoir! Write what you experienced, what you feel. Laugh along the way. Cry with the words you are putting on paper. Heal if it’s healing you seek. It is your story. When you get to the point of wanting to publish your memoir, make sure you have done your duty by protecting the reputation of others.
Disclaimer: Of course, these are my opinions and based on research and they are not legal advice. You should always consult an attorney if you are in doubt.
Til next time,