Monday, March 21, 2011

Be Nice to Me or I’ll Kill You in my Next Novel

About a month ago, I sent a friend one of my manuscripts to read. By friend I mean a lifetime bestie - the kind of friend who knows all my embarrassing stories, probably has a few (okay LOTS of) incriminating pictures, someone you don’t see for months but once you are in each other’s company it’s like no time has passed.

Oddly enough, I don’t usually share my writing with my "circle of friends" friends. And I never really understood why, until my friend asked me – “Am I in it?”

My first response was “No, you’re not.”

The longer I thought about it though I wondered if maybe part of her was in my novel.

Some of what I write, especially when it comes to the bare bones of a story, is usually inspired by an event that affected me personally. That doesn’t mean the finished product resembles anything near said actual event or person, but I suddenly understand the need for a literary disclaimer.

The truth is some of my characters are definitely inspired by real people.

Honestly, how could they NOT be?

When creating characters I don’t usually make elaborate dossiers unless I’m bored or stuck. I tend to figure out my characters as I put them into situations. And while this isn’t always the quickest route to take (right now I have two characters on a bus who’ve just decided they want to sit there for awhile and enjoy each other’s company – ugh!) it works for me. I can tell the difference between when I’m sandwiching characters in a scene for my sake and when the scene arises organically through their reactions and responses. And boy do I love those organic days. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m basing a character on some part of someone until after I’ve gone over it a few times.

Other times I know immediately.

A former boss, a guidance counselor, ex-boyfriends, cars (yes, cars), my favorite English teacher, various mean girls and my niece have all inspired characters in my novels. Some of these have only made a cameo, others full-fledged supporting roles. But is it my niece? No. Her artistic flair, yes. Would she think it was her if she read my novel? Probably not, but she might. And since said character is rather kick-ass (imho), I don’t think she’d have a problem.

Now my exes...HA...might have a different opinion (see headline).

So how about you? Fess up...will you have to put the disclaimer Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental in the front matter of your novel? Or do all of your characters spring forth from your imagination?

*Photo credit: um, not sure, but that's me and the crowd of people I spent my formative years with...and no, not one of them appears in my novels. For real. Reminds me of the Nickelback song Photograph...we all have one like this...right??


  1. Ha! We have to start with a kernel of truth, right. I think my kids would recognize their rooms. And if my cat could read, he'd reconize himself.

  2. Great post!

    When I was in high school, I resented the girls who were pretty and rich and got everything easy, so I usually eviscerate those types in my fiction.

    I had a nasty bitchy character in ELEMENTAL, who had the same name as my agent's assistant. Tamar (my agent) told me that her assistant loved my book, but wasn't crazy about the fact that she shared names with a such a nasty girl. So I asked for the name of someone who'd wronged her. Now that girl is eviscerated in fiction. And since I don't even know who she is, it's completely innocuous.

    Over at the Bookends site, Jessica did a similar post the other day, but she talked about how basing your characters too much on a real person can be rather limiting. I've been thinking about that all week. I never really base one character on one specific person, but I'd never considered how limiting it would be.

    I agree with Meg about the kernel of truth. Our characters have to start somewhere. They just don't have to end up as the next door neighbor.

    And people are going to read into it anyway. (Wow, this is a long comment.) My first novel, which didn't sell, had a main character who had a very dysfunctional relationship with her mother. My sister-in-law, when she read it, said to me once, "I didn't realize you had such resentment for your mom." I don't! My mom and I are closer than sisters! I made all that up!

    So next time someone asks you if they're in the book, just say yes, and leave it at that.

    Let them guess.

  3. Robin,

    Thanks for the good laugh. I shared this blog post title with my husband just as we headed for bed. He is waiting for my first novel so I don't think he's too worried.

    I have based a story on a line of dialogue from my niece and some of her character traits. She knows it and is okay with it. In fact, she asked me to write about her experiences at Ripley's Museum. She must trust her aunt. She needs to be warned that we don't always write "nice."

    Thanks for a fun post.
    Linda A.

  4. Meg - so you'd have to include "any similarities to felines" in your disclaimer, huh?

    Brigid - Great comment! Yes I think that's what would be hard about basing a character completely on someone - it would be limiting. I tend to lift traits here and there, but I don't think I've ever based any of my characters on someone real (okay, maybe one minor, in the background character!). Funny about your sister-in-law! My friend, after reading some of my manuscript eventually asked me...okay, which one is you the mc or her mom? And I was, neither!

    Linda - Glad you enjoyed the post! You're so right about sometimes having to warn "we don't write nice". I think that may be hard to understand sometimes!

  5. Loved the post and the picture! This is why I'm reluctant to let the people who are close to me read my mss.--not that they've asked todo so!--because I know they'll think I'm basing my characters on them, whether or not it's true.

  6. The father/son conflict in my WIP was born from a real situation. But it's unrecognizable to anyone now (I hope).

  7. JL - Thanks! I think it's nearly impossible not to base a little something in what you write on some kernel of truth!

    JA - oooh, interesting!!