Ethics in Autobiography

*except in cases of autobiography. Then there will be no killing of characters.

I don’t put people I know in my book. I mean, except for this one screenplay I wrote, but they all knew about it and it’s technically not a book. So, no I don’t put people I know in my books. Except this isn’t a book, it’s my blog.

In other words, this is non-fiction, the selected stories of my life and thoughts. And so people I know do appear here. I try to edit out names and just maybe have a first initial (like my BFF, D). When I migrated my MySpace blog and combined it with the livejournal blog to create this one WordPress blog, I went back and did some editing. The MySpace was private so only my small group of friends saw it and so it would have been silly to edit out names because everyone knew who I meant. However, I went back through my blog a week or so ago and realized I had missed some entries. I’ve hopefully fixed it all now.

This really all goes back to a couple of posts ago when someone whom I would have guessed is the last person on Earth to be reading my blog, was somehow reading my blog. Readers can scroll back and look.

Now, there are thousands if not millions of bloggers who write in a journal-esque manner. There are thousands of writers and people who write autobiographies. So the question is, what are the ethics of writing about the secondary characters in your own life? Aside from any libel issues.

I’m not a saint, if my oldest friend wrote an autobiography and had a detailed chapter about what an awful human being I was to her when we were kids, what am I supposed to say? I was an awful human being to her when we were kids. I would hope she also mentions that eventually I stopped. But I did what I did, and I was old enough to know that what I was doing was wrong. That I was bullying her. I still regret that I was so mean to her, and I’m really glad that we are friends now.

I can understand that she might not want the world to know any of that. Should I have not written about it just now? Hey girl, if you are out there reading my blog, I hope you’re not mad.

In my head, that story is about me. I am my protagonist who carries the guilt of having once been a bully. The reality is, she’s not a secondary character, she is her own protagonist.  And I am the secondary character in her life that the audience would boo on screen and probably be mad at the end of the movie because now we are friends.

No more sweeping the leg

I could say that the problem is that thanks to the internet, these stories have such a higher chance of becoming widely known. But I would argue that even if there was no internet, if a local person wrote an autobiography 100 years ago, even without world-wide distribution the people in the book would see it because they are the people in the author’s life.

So I’m no closer to the answer about this ethics in autobiography thing. At least I’m not writing a tell-all book  and I can hope I’m extended the same courtesy. Because I might have some skeletons in my closet, and those who know them should do well to remember that I know about the skeletons in theirs.

*image found on http://bluesyemre.com
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One response to “Ethics in Autobiography

  • shanayanour

    Love your post. Its so real. I just finished my autobiography and i just changed people names and locations for legal purposes mostly. I decided to write my truth for the benefit of others. I therefore weighed the pros and cons of telling it all. Ofcourse there were more cons but I did it anyway. So as far as ethics go there is no clear answer. Everyone is different. Some might care and some might not but what they cannot deny is the truth so I am sticking to that. If you have time stop by ShanayaNour.com here on wordpress. My autobiography is not published yet but I provide my readers with a series of short stories while they wait.

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