Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Sunday, November 09, 2014

When including real people in your stories is a bad idea

When I was at the beginning of my journey as a writer, I wrote a lot of short stories that included people I knew as the main characters. I did this for fun mostly. It was interesting to see what kind of pseudo-adventures my friends and I could go on in these stories or to explore what life might be like at a future time. Some people do this kinda thing in their head but I did this kinda thing on paper. At this point, I was not interested in getting published. I was only interested in writing stories. They were fun to write. The stories just popped into my head and I wrote them.

I think a lot of writers do this when they are first starting out. They write stories with real people in them. It’s a fun diversion and it keeps the writer writing. Additionally, it instills the habit of writing, which will help the writer later on.

There are, however, a few things that can go wrong when writing these kinds of stories.

If a writer is going to write stories with their friends in them, then it’s a good idea to NOT get the stories published. If the story gets published and the writer has a fallout with the friend later on, then even if the friend was cool with the story before, then he/she can turn around and sue the writer. They’d be interested in getting a cut of what the writer earned for that story – and maybe even more. I know some people think “Well, this is my Best Friend! We’re BFF’s! She’ll NEVER sue me!” But, you never know. You don’t know what could happen later on down the road. Don’t risk it.

Another thing that can go wrong is losing the friendship entirely, even if the story never gets published. This is why I feel such stories should never be shared with the people they include. That person may not like the story or he/she may not approve of her actions in the story. Or maybe he/she won’t really care for those kinds of stories (the genre). So do keep these stories for your own enjoyment. It’s just best not to share them.

And, finally, if you write these stories, don’t write them in public or where you just might be in a position where someone you know who is in the story happens to pick it up and start reading it. Write them in the privacy of your own room or somewhere you can be alone. Writing them in public is too risky and if the wrong people read these stories, you can get into trouble or worse. So, write them in private.

These days, I really don’t think it’s a good idea to write stories with people you know in them, but I understand that writers do this. If modeling a character after someone you know, make that character VERY different. Or, if giving the character your friend's name, make that character VERY different from your friend. I may have characters in my GHOST Group stories who are named after my children, but my characters look and act differently than my kids do. (And they know this!) We call them “the other Jenny” and “the other Jesse.” It’s all in good fun. And that’s the spirit behind these stories, too. It’s just for fun. But other people may not see it that way. Other people may take offense over it or get all sensitive about it. Or they may take it way too seriously. This is especially true if they are not writers, because they don’t understand how writers are or how writers think, how we create. They only see a problem. So, if you do write such stories, don’t get them published, don’t share them with the people included, and don’t write them in public. There’s a lot less drama and legal nightmare to deal with that way.

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  • At 1:39 PM , Blogger Millie said...

    Yeah it's usually best to replace the names. I mean, they do that for movies as well, and sometimes even do that on documentaries. :/

  • At 8:55 AM , Blogger Dawn Wilson said...

    Thanks for the comment! Yes, definitely change the names of the characters before what is written is turned into a published story, book or even a movie. But go over it VERY carefully to make sure the name is changed throughout the manuscript. A friend of mine wrote someone's memoirs but because what he went through was an embarrassing ordeal and might cause lawsuits, names were changed, including his. In one area of the book, though, his real name was used and not the fictional name. Gotta be careful with that!


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