They say you should write about what you know but I am wondering how much of this would actually get you into trouble? When I finished my Nano project in November 2015 it was a huge feeling of relief. Up to that point I wouldn't talk about the plot at all with my husband and eventually when I told him what it was all about he looked at me, smirked and said, 'So its plain to see who each of the characters is based on!' Ooops! Was I that transparent?
That got me wondering whether I was going to get myself into a whole lot of trouble if the book was ever published. I knew I was basing the main characters on real people and some of my own experiences but I stupidly thought no one would make the connection! My darling husband and his enormous and infuriating brain figured it out in seconds. Fortunately I don't give a monkey's ass about the opinions of the people that some of the characters might closely resemble (Admit to nothing I hear you shout). I am no longer in contact with them and they'd never admit to reading any book I wrote! However, I am now left with another dilemma. I have an idea for a second book and its very clearly based on myself and my friends. Although, my friends do know about it and I threaten them now and again to base a 30 stone transvestite on one of them or a raging sex mad alcoholic! Seriously though, I am wondering just how careful are other writers around basing their characters on real people. I know that if I ever write this book I am going to have to be very careful when writing about people I know will read the book. I don't want to offend or hurt and I'm hoping they will see what I am writing as a compliment to the wonderful people that they are.
I think its quite difficult not to use traits from other people for your characters, particularly when they are things that make some sort of an impact on you whether from an emotional point of view or because you think they are the most wonderful people in the world and that needs to be shared. I know that some of the traits of my very best friends are what makes me love them so much. But, not being the most experienced of writers I'd love to hear the opinions of other writers. Do you risk an onslaught from the 'real' people in your life if you base a character, no matter how loosely on them? Are they easily offended? Do you live in fear of the neighbours slashing your car tyres or excluding you, heaven forbid, from all the neighbourhood watch meetings all because you wrote about a cul-de-sac where there was a bit of wife swapping or mad affairs going on in the garden shed at the bottom of the garden (yeah this happened!). Are you afraid Auntie Mabel will cross you off her Christmas card because you wrote about an elderly female character with a liking for smoking Cuban cigars or that Uncle Max will write you out of his will? Or worse, leave you his damn cat as a punishment when he knows you are allergic to cats all because you mentioned his fascination with ladies knickers! Are you at risk of totally alienating yourself from friends and family who live in fear you are going to write then into a book and then kill them off even if you have no intention of doing so!?
At a recent book launch for Colin Bateman's book Papercuts, which is set in my home town, he joked that often people think characters are based on them when in fact they aren't. I thought this was really interesting. Is it a case of inflated egos that cause people to assume they are the basis for a character or is it perhaps really clever writing that lets a reader see a part of themselves in a character who isn't actually based on anyone in particular? Some books probably fly pretty close to the wire and writers do have to be very careful from a legal point of view. Or is it a case of write and be damned with the consequences! I suppose all this will come down to experience / stupidity / naivety or all three!
I think that there is no doubt that it is impossible to write characters that may have some resemblance to real people and whether writers do that unconsciously or not I'm not altogether sure. I'm pretty sure that a lot of experiences written about are based on someone's real life experience. In my book some of what happens or the things said to the female lead character are things once said to me. Did I write this as a sort of therapy? Possibly. Did I write it as revenge? Absolutely not. I wrote it because it made a good story. I know that when I was writing my Nano book I googled photographs of what I thought the characters looked like and based a lot of stuff around that. Unfortunately they happen to look like people I know! Oh dear. I'll just sit here and wait for the court summons then if the book ever gets into print! Watch this space!