Thursday, September 2, 2010

Writing About People We Know

Balthasar Denner--Portrait of an Old Woman--c. 1720 It’s always really interesting talking with readers about writing. Their questions are always really different from writers’ questions.

In the past I’ve never noticed much similarity in the questions I get, but recently, at different events, I’ve heard variations on the same question several times.

Do I write people I know? Do people I know wish I’d write about them? Do I write about myself?

Writing people we know: When the readers were asking about putting real people in books, they looked anxious--like they wouldn’t want to be part of a book. Which I can understand—you’d have no control over what was said about you. And maybe everyone who read the book would know you were the person the character was based on.

This is exactly why I don’t base my characters very closely on one person. My characters are usually amalgams of lots of different people—characteristics from five different people, personality traits from three others. And I know some writers would never base a character on a real person in any way.

Do people we know want to make appearances in our books? This is happening a little more frequently now. Usually, they want something that happened to them to be part of my book. Sometimes someone will say to me, “Let me tell you what happened to me—you should put it in one of your books.” So I’ll just say something noncommittal back: “Wow, that was some story! I’ll file that away…I’m always looking for new material and ideas.” But who knows?—maybe there’s some part of some story that will spark an idea for me.

Do we write ourselves into our books? I think I’m in the minority on this one, but I really don’t write myself into my books. I do add a few of my negative traits into some of my characters—maybe it’s therapy. :) So my frustration, impatience, etc, might make its way into a character. But other than that—no. My life and my personality honestly isn’t all that interesting to base books or characters on—I’d rather use my imagination.

How about you? Do you write about people you know? Do people you know want a cameo in your book? Do you write about yourself or your life?