How do you write about your family honestly without causing them pain?
It is very cathartic and therapeutic to write about things personal to you, to get very close to the people and the events, to relate the details in writing, to get control over pain, especially pain caused by family that has lasted years. Writing can't really be that good if it's not completely honest and personal.
Over the last year, I have been able to write about my childhood and early adulthood in an honest but fictional way, always speaking in the third person, giving my character a name. I am Nora in my fiction. I don't know why that name and no other seems to suit me, but it works. I can speak from Nora's perspective about characters and events that have impacted me with kindness and empathy. The narrator of my fiction, the one that sees into Nora's mind also sees into the mind of everyone that impact her. The narrator is both honest and detached. The detachment is needed so I, the writer not the fictional character, do feel terrible for writing the words. The detachment of third person gives me control and prevents a story from turning into a personal, painful rant.
I have also been working on a children's story where both the human and animal characters embody the personalities of the people in my immediate family. My family enjoys and takes offense to the way I have created both people and animals that are very much like them. My husband is a nervous bunny that always tries to please and never feels like he is doing enough. I am a fussy snake that is kind and well-meaning inside but hard to read on the outside. I write the story with love, and my family takes no offense because they know I see them and appreciate them for who they are - that I notice their nuances of character and put pieces of their personality into my characters. The think it's awesome.
As for my parents and siblings, I am not sure if I can make a sweet story or lovable characters from them. When I write about them here in a non-fictional way, I worry I will hurt them, which is not what I want at all. Instead I will develop fictional stories about Nora with truly fictional characters in them - characters that may need to be a blend or a piecing together of people I know and events I have experienced. I will try to treat my characters with love and respect - always in third person, never directly from me and never right at you.