Friday, February 10, 2006

Protecting the Innocent (and the Not-So)

One of the recurring questions almost all writers have is "How much of my writing can be based on real people?" You see, even if we don't explicitly base a character on a person we know, our friends and family are constantly reading our work and looking for themselves or people they know in it. If they decide a character is based on them, and that character does reprehensible or simply embarrassing things, then you are setting yourself up for major row. It doesn't matter if you really were thinking of the real person or not when you created the character. As I've written before, it is our life experiences that provide the raw material for our stories, but that raw material is very rarely used verbatim. It's just the straw that we spin into gold, and "any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental." But our friends and family don't generally buy that line.

So, should write to protect your loved ones from controversy? Or to put it another way, would you want your mother to read the steamy and perverse S&M-laden sex scene you just wrote for your protagonist? It doesn't matter if you have never (and would never) participate in such an activity, if it needs to happen with your character, then it needs to happen. But plan on raising a few eyebrows if write a sex scene in which the protagonist has an affair with his sister-in-law. Your brother may start watching you extra closely...

So, again, should you shy away from this type of thing? The answer is an unequivocal "no." The minute you tie your hands (no pun intended), you have effectively hamstrung your ability to write moving, meaningful stories. You may end up being the "bad child" as a result of your writing, but if you write to be the "good child" then you've doomed your career before it starts. Sometimes it's best to have a talk with the family about what fiction is and what the creative process is like before the book is written and not try to explain it after the fact. Beyond that, write what has to be written. Only you can be true to your Muse, after all.

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