You know that little statement at the start or end of fiction books? Sometimes there’s a little disclaimer about the work being fiction. That the characters and events in the book are fiction and any resemblance to people dead or alive is a coincidence.
I understand why publishers and authors do this. They’re covering their own butts. You certainly don’t want someone who perceives themselves to be the villain in a bestseller to sue you for character defamation or something. (Is this even a thing? Anyway…) I’ll admit it. I have several characters who are based on my nearest and dearest.
The first novel I wrote even has the imagined bookshop we all envisioned ourselves running. You know, when people realised that electronic books were not the way to go. Obviously, we all still have other jobs and that dream was only ever a blue sky project – but I put it in the book.
The main character of this novel is completely fictional but her best friend Maxine is a real person, as is her mother Nicky and her sister Kelly. These are real people, these are their reals names and they are Nicky’s kids. I grew up with Maxine and we’re still best friends. Now, I did ask permission to use their names and they have read the manuscript and approved the use in that context, not in writing or anything just a quick ‘yeah I don’t mind.’
Although I have based these characters around real people, the personalities of these fictional beings do not match the real, breathing, walking and talking people. Nicky – maaaybe. Maxine and Kelly definitely not. I have plans for Max and Kelly but Nicky will remain the steadfast mast in a whirlwind of chaos – just as she is in real life.
I suppose I wondered if people sue others because of their depiction in books. I found a great article on it at Writer’s Digest . If I was going to be horrible to someone I don’t think I would make it as obvious as calling them by their name or even having the physical description resemble the real life person. Disclaimer – All my villains are imagined. I do write about actual events but without specific details. Human experience is universal. Isn’t it?
I recently finished writing the first book in my urban fantasy trilogy and one of the characters is based on another best friend – Frances. She comes in very late to the book but because it’s a trilogy her part is important in the next two books. Now, in the books Frances is dead – in reality obviously she’s alive. I had a hard time separating fact from fiction in this book because of my relationship with her.
Describing how she dies was particularly tough. But should I have excluded it? I don’t think so because it is the emotional connection that I have to these people, in real life, that help enrich the story. The ties I have with them are hopefully passed through my words and should help the reader connect as well. At least I hope so.
I remember telling Fran about her character, I told her that I was sobbing while writing about her. She asked. “Am I dead? Did you kill me?!” I said yes, because I had, but considering the book is about ghosts, it’s very relevant.To be clear the character Frances is very different from the person, but there are elements that tie the two together that only me and people who know her will ‘get.’ She’s a well-rounded character as are all the characters I write. They have to be because otherwise I might as well write a memoir and just stick them in it.
I’d like to know if anyone else does this? Do you write about people you know? Either secretly or is it blatantly obvious?
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