Make us your home page

Tell Me About It: Separating creative license from emotions

e from a writer's real emotions

Q: My sister writes weekly first-person features for a regionally well-known magazine. I've noticed she sometimes makes our family sound like caricatures of ourselves — and not always in a positive way. Mom is a little pushy; Sis casts her as a boundary-challenged social oaf. Sis and I have a small spat; Sis paints it as the hugest deal ever.

I get that it's a little like stage makeup — the mythological proportions make it easier to understand at the readers' distance. She's always careful to protect our identities and balance the bad with the good. Still, sometimes this smarts, and I wonder whether she truly sees things as she describes them; should I apologize when I read that I've hurt her? She says I shouldn't ever take these things personally, but I'm not so sure.


A: I gave this a lot of thought when I posted David Sedaris' New Yorker piece on his sister's death ( and learned that Tiffany Sedaris wasn't comfortable with his writing ( — and I also saw this stunning obituary (, which itself isn't pertinent here but is a must-read, so there you go.

The opinion I formed is that essays like your sister's are best taken as entertainment, not reality. Best for your peace of mind; best for your sister because it's her art form; best for your family bond. I realize this has to involve a degree of denial because it's your family going under the blowtorch and being twisted into a form you don't recognize. But that's my point: It's not your family; it's art made from the raw material of your family, meaning it gets changed in the artistic process.

As for apologies, just ask: "I read 'X.' Are you genuinely upset, or were you taking artistic license?"

If you can't not hurt, then don't read her work.

Tell Me About It: Separating creative license from emotions 06/15/14 [Last modified: Friday, June 13, 2014 10:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post Writers Group.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours