I change names, genders, ages, locations, and other identifying factors, nothing that’s not standard. I have also at times left a sibling out of a scene entirely if I can get away with it, to minimize the bruising, if I think there will be any.
Mostly, I stick with fiction.
And I’m here to tell you it doesn’t make the problem disappear. I could write about dragons who play tennis on Mars and I would still undergo family scrutiny and receive comments like, “I know who that head dragon was supposed to be,” or “you did a good job of portraying Mom as a fire-breathing tennis champion.”
This is a writer named Gila Green. Apparently she has this issue with every book. Her siblings point at characters and get mad.
This never happens to me. On the one occasion I was thinking of my brother as I developed a character, he had no reason to get mad (and didn’t, though he spotted the occasional resemblance.) On the one occasion I was thinking of my mother as I developed a character, she didn’t notice; unsurprising, since this was very much in the background. As far as I know, that’s it for me. No one (as far as I can tell) thinks I’m putting them in my novels, or commenting on family situations, or whatever. Certainly no one fusses at me about it.
Pretty sure this is not just me. I’m betting Green’s experience would be different if she actually did write about dragons — at least if she plunged her dragons into saving-the-world urgency rather than having them negotiate the endless shoals of family drama. But since she’s writing literary (I think, from a quick glance at Amazon), well, there you go.
Yet another reason to be just as pleased I’m writing SFF. If I put a dragon on Mars, my family will just see a dragon on Mars, not themselves.