I’ve been pondering. Again. During this current pondering event, I find myself wondering…is fiction ever really 100% fiction? Aren’t there always certain aspects of nonfiction thrown in? Maybe it’s within the development of a character. Maybe you are writing about Mrs. Johnson and her physical appearance is described as that of your grandmother. Or maybe the town of Maintown U.S.A. has characteristics of your hometown. See where I’m going with this?
Writers need to most definitely use caution when creating fictional characters based on real people. We all have (or have had) a friend that lives a life that’s probably far better than anything we could ever make up but really…is it an invasion of privacy? While conducting some research on this subject, I stumbled upon a blog (http://crofsblogs.typepad.com) that had some useful information:
“Assuming you’re a capable writer who can cherry-pick real-life events and string them into a story, should you presume to make money and your reputation by, in effect, ratting out your friends? It really is an invasion of privacy; we normally deal with one another off the record, and we resent it when a shared confidence becomes public gossip. More people would sue the authors of autobiographical fiction, if not for the fact that a lawsuit would only publicize the breach of confidence.
For what it’s worth, here’s my solution: Of course the events of our lives inspire us to write fiction, and in a sense all fiction is autobiographical. Even my fantasy novels are set in terrain I know (the Canadian Rockies and western Alberta), and the characters share traits with me and people I know.
But I try to abstract the issues from the events. As an anxious father of daughters, I may write about harm done to young women, but the young women are not much like my actual daughters. I also change the circumstances—not to conceal “what really happened” but to enhance the point I’m trying to make. Once freed of the need to be factually accurate, I can design a setting that makes (for example) harm done to young women a truly appalling event.
So in the case my correspondent wants to write about, I’d pull way back from the true details and try to find a pattern. Then I’d design my characters and setting to bring out that pattern. It might still be set in my own home town, or I might find that some other city makes a better background. (When we set a story in a particular place, we are in effect saying that place is itself a character in the story, which couldn’t have turned out the same if set anywhere else.)
The main character might be somewhat like the real person who inspired my story, but I’d try to develop the personality and motives to highlight the points I want to make: the heroine might be more aggressive, the hero more passive, than in reality, if those traits made it easier to develop scenes and a plot to illustrate my theme.”
So really, it all falls back on WWYD (What Would You Do?) – Think about it (Evin Wilkins – http://www.mrgurupublishing.com)