Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Perils of Writing About Who You Know

You often hear you should write about what you know. Does this apply to writing about who you know? This is what can go wrong when you write about who you know: In this week's episode of Gossip Girl, Dan Humphrey announces the publication of his book to his inner circle of Manhattan's young elite. The book showcases the lives of his close friends and loved ones. At first, Dan's friends and family are amused with the idea of being in the book, but as they read through it, most get pissed over how they're portrayed. Serena, Dan's ex-gf, is upset at being shown as a self-centered party girl. Rufus, Dan's father, doesn't like being labeled as a washed up musician and trophy husband. Blair, who is engaged to the suspicious Prince Louis, freaks out at the suggestion she and Dan had hooked up hooked up. (Blair should've figured out Dan wasn't trying to cut her down when he suggested they'd gotten together. It was wishful thinking on his part, and MINE too.)

At the end of the episode, Dan's inner circle is gone and he is all alone. Poor Dan...he didn't even want his secret book to be made public. On the bright side, no one threatened to sue him.

The outside universe provides a wealth of inspiration to writers, unless one is an absolute hermit who never ever leaves their home and never ever communicates with anybody aside from the voices in their head. So I wouldn't be surprised if some writers may sometimes get ideas for some aspects of their fictional characters from consciously or subconsciously picking up vibes from others, and they can do it without pulling a Dan.

My take: If a real-life person inspires a character to be portrayed in a  flattering way, the writer should still convey this is a made-up character. Now if a real-life person inspires a character who's all sorts of gross, the writer should proceed with some caution when revealing  this character who is supposed to be (REMINDER!!) fictional.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this topic.


Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I never put people I know "in a book." Occasionally I may borrow a real-life event--for example, the time my husband and I encountered a rattlesnake while hiking--but my characters are all fictional. Not only does that help my real-life relationships, but I feel like my characters are not limited by what a real person would do or not!

Cynthia Heart Books said...

Jennifer, thanks for sharing and commenting! The Gossip Girl story was a cautionary tale to warn of what can happen when writers plant real people they know in a book.

I also wrote my post to recognize that sometimes real people can inspire fictional characters, with the understanding that these fictional characters are not real people but products of a writer's imagination, but perhaps further fleshed out with an outside prompt. I don't feel this is the same thing as planting a real person in a book. For example, I can overhear two girls chatting at the mall and be inspired to use their mannerisms and clothing style in a fictional character. And that could be the extent of the inspiration the outside prompts provide.

Encountering a rattlesnake while hiking...that must've been scary!

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