Monday, 29 October 2012

Using people you know in fiction

Jason from Devon is writing a novel based on people he knows, but is concerned about possible legal implications. He writes: I live in a fairly small town and the people here range from the slightly odd to massively eccentric. I’ve got an idea for a book based on these people (you wouldn’t believe how out there some of them are) but I don’t want to end up in trouble if someone recognises themselves. Apart from changing the names, how can I disguise the fact that I’m using real people?

The best way of doing this so that people in your life won’t realise you’ve used them is to combine two or three real life people into one fictional character. If, for example, the pub landlord is a misogynist and the vicar has a drinking problem, you could easily put the two together as one character and make him the local magistrate.

What I suggest you do is create a profile for each composite character. Put down as much factual information as possible, but also change anything which would enable the person to recognise themselves. 

So, for example, if you intend to use the man who works in the petrol station and he has brown hair and brown eyes, give him a different job, change the hair to red and give him green eyes. Make him taller or shorter than the person you’re going to base your character on, or make him fatter or thinner, give him more hair or make him bald, depending on how much hair the actual person has.

If you change the way he looks and where he works, he is unlikely to associate himself with that character, meaning you can still use his eccentricities without fear of recognition. Few of us recognise our own eccentric habits, but are quick to spot odd behaviour in others. 

At the top of each profile make a note which character/characters they are in real life to remind you of the foibles and traits you want to incorporate.

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  1. I would write the truth but definitely change the names and teh I'd leave town, seriously.

  2. Excellent advice, Lo. I can't count the number of real people I've murdered in my novels without them ever being aware of it.

  3. A writer's revenge is often bloody and always satisfying.