Today’s post is written to a weekly prompt from Tuesday Tales, ‘building’. Previous posts have taken place in 1934 Iowa, in Calico Connections. However, since I’m in the middle of another fiction for a contest submittal, I don’t want to re-enter my Iowa make believe world yet. Here is my entry for the week in the genre memoir/writing, for possible inclusion in another WIP, Planting Carrots. We’ll see later.
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FRIENDS CAN BACKFIRE
So true. So true. We’re writers and we do as advised – write what you know. Our stories grow, building layer upon layer, drawing on our life’s experiences.
A Facebook post of a some-ecard echoes the sentiments:
“I’m a writer. If I’m staring at you, I’m not being rude. I’m trying to decide if you need to go in a book. If you’re a snot, I may be trying to decide how to kill you.”
We’re writers and we need a diverse assortment of characters at our disposal, be it for short stories, novels, or blog posts.
So, we borrow from real life. The bad hairdo from the barista at the coffee shop. The annoying habits of our coworkers: one is loud, one is OCD, one is in a perpetual bad mood, and one is saccharine sweet. The sloppiness and disarray of our neighbor. The tardiness, or compunctional earliness, of those in our social groups. A boss that chews. Our church member that smacks their wad of gum the entire time their talking to you. The clerk that needs a shave – or a shower.
Our spouses are not exempt. Mine has a habit of frequently answering with “Yeppers.” One of my major characters in a contest entry I’m working on now coincidentally has that same habit. (Shhhh, don’t tell!)
Eavesdropping on conversations is a goldmine for future characters. One day I overheard, “He doesn’t have the personality God gave a gopher.” Priceless! I jotted it down. I will use it someday. I’m not sure where, but I know at some point in the future, one of my characters will need just those words.
We have the disclaimers in place. “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales are entirely coincidental.” (Disclaimer example is from The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austin, by Syril James)
As the popular song goes … ‘That’s my story … and I’m stickin’ to it!’
I’ll admit it, I’ve borrowed from real life, in the creation of my fictional, and not so fictional pieces. I’m sure that almost all of us have. In my WIP chapter book, The Itty Bits, Beezer and Queenie behave suspiciously like my younger brother and sister, Butch and Susie. After seeing a picture of the pillow quoted in the opening, I emailed it to my sister, along with the opening chapters of The Itty Bits.
She’s now afraid to talk to me.
I needed some girl names for two Girl Scouts in a children’s story. (Trash & Treasure, Guardian Angel Kids ezine). Elizabeth and Michelle came to life on the pages. (Thanks sister, Susan Elizabeth, and niece, Michelle.)
Prissy & Paige, a YA WIP, stars two 14 year old girls. These two BFF’s coincidently seem to have many of the same arguments and dilemmas that my own 14 year old BFF, Connie, and I had. (Connie, by the way, is still talking to me, maybe because she hasn’t seen my manuscript yet.)
One of my NANO (National Novel Writing Month) experiences brought to light one of the potential problems with using recognizable friends in your stories, even if the friends know and are excited about it. One November, Three Bags Full and the town of Bluebonnet Ridge came to life. Unfortunately, on November 30th the story stalled and is yet to be resurrected. The main crew in this small Texan town consisted of:
Paige (me): Proprietor of the fiber store. (Yes, I weave, spin, knit and crochet)
Jayne (Joyce): Works at City Hall and makes awesome chain maille jewelry on the side (Yes, she does, and yes, she does.)
Shelly (Shanine): the paper queen, her store features her beautiful paper creations (no store in real life, the paper creations are true)
Meg (Megan): Owns a ladybug farm nearby (No lady bug farm in real life, but she is a ladybug fanatic and would love to have a ladybug farm)
Faith (Connie Faye): Yes, here’s Connie again, now owning a bakery (In real life, no bakery, but she is an awesome cook, well known by all her friends and coworkers for her delectable goodies)
And then, about 30,000 words into the story (no, I never hit my 50,000 word goal that year), I discovered a major flaw. I’d let my friends all know about this group of ‘fictional’ friends. They knew it was about us, honoring our years of friendship. They were looking forward to reading the manuscript.
But, for the good of the story and the depth of the characters, we all need to have some flaws. All of us. My dilemma; how to portray the characters shortcoming without offending my friends.
Note to self: In the future, do NOT let your friends know that they are the inspiration behind certain characters. While they may provide the major impetus for the character’s development, when your friend reads the story, they may associate every word or action the character makes as a reflection of something you’ve seen in them. Bad idea!
Write your characters. Use the people you know – friend and foe – as your inspiration, just disguise them. Change the names, identifying characteristics, even change their sex if you wish.
We writer’s will have the ultimate revenge. Those we know and love, and those we don’t, will find themselves written into eternity by our words.