Friday, August 19, 2011

Writing About Real People

the paris wife

I’d been hearing good things about Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, so I recently downloaded it to my Kindle and read the book. I really enjoyed it.

I found, however, that I kept sympathizing with Ernest Hemingway instead of Hadley, which is not what I think I was supposed to do. :)

As a writer, it’s hard not to, though. After all, he was a literary genius. He’s got to get those books out there. Don’t hold him back, Hadley!

There were other times, of course, when Hemingway was less than likeable.

This book is a novel based on real events, so we can’t really treat it as a biography, but it does have a lot of really interesting insights into the couple (and McLain did a ton of research.)

One of the things that apparently created some concern for Hadley Hemingway was the way that Ernest wrote about their friends and even parodied one friend’s work (destroying some friendships in the process). And the fact that he didn’t write about Hadley in The Sun Also Rises.

Apparently, everyone knew who Hemingway’s characters were drawn from.

So some people were upset at being portrayed in a particular way and some were upset at not being portrayed at all.

This could become a problem with our own stories, too. Friends or family could get their feelings hurt. The thought of libel isn’t too thrilling, either.

For me, it’s more fun to take lots of small bits of different people and make it into a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of a new character. That way I’ve still got the solid traits that I can easily describe, but I’m not drawing too much from one person.

And I don’t put people’s secrets into my book. Although I don’t know too many secrets! And the fact that I’m a writer might be why. :)

To me, it’s just not worth losing friends over. Some characters may be amalgams of many different people I know, but I’m not going to use one person’s life or appearance to base a character or story on.

Do you write about people you know? Do you have a line you won’t cross?