Monday, August 2, 2010

Fictionalizing Your Experiences

How do you use your experiences in a fiction or non-fiction piece and maintain your privacy? Better yet, how do you use situations involving others without them getting mad at you?

Below are some ideas to help you maintain your balance on this tightrope:

1. When developing a character, make it a composite of several people. Aunt Mary won't snub you at the next reunion--unless, of course, you use a mannerism that is peculiar to her and easily recognizable.

2. There are situations you won't want to write about, but can take the emotions associated with them to bring life to your characters or non-fiction pieces. For example: If you've lost a loved one, you'll be able to write about a character, who has endured multiple losses. You can overlay your emotions onto her situation.

3. Never write about real people without getting their permission in writing or changing the names of those involved. You might also want to disguise or change the setting. I'm sure you've seen stories where there's an asterisk after the person's name and a footnote saying the name has been changed to protect them.

If the story is about you, but you wish to remain anonymous, use a pen name. Using a real person's story without their written permission could open you to a lawsuit. (Please note: I am not an attorney and cannot give legal advice. This is just a warning to be safe rather than sorry.)

What are some of the ways you fictionalize your real-life scenes? Have you ever gotten into trouble writing about someone you know?

28 comments:

kristen said...

If it's a mannerism/characteristic/ personality that can be either a man or a woman, I try to see if I can change the gender to the opposite of the real person I'm "copying." It might not be so recognizable that way.
Thanks for the tips, Susan!!
Have a great day:)
Kristen

Marja said...

Just over this last weekend I wrote an article for a magazine (in Holland) and used a discussion with my younger brother as an opening scene. Although (or because) he is family, I asked his permission to do this. Better be safe than sorry :)
Thanks for your tips, I appreciate it!

patti said...

I'm on the third book of writing about real women and have had a BLAST with it!

I did get permissions on The Rhythm of Secrets, but on An Irishwoman's Tale, Kregel actually mentioned in the copyright info that it was based on a real person.

The Author's Notes try to sort everything out so the reader understands what is fiction, what is real.

Publishers do a great job of helping you here...

Jody Hedlund said...

My first two books are inspired by the lives of people who lived in the past. So I think that takes a different aspect. The "inspired" by means that I could use the lives but also fictionalize it for the sake of the story. Even so, I do pull from real people and experiences for my characters. So I appreciate your tips!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I wrote a post about this and mentioned Mr. (or Mrs.) Potato Heading characters. Loved turning that word ito a verb. Essentially it's putting your #1 into action.

Great post.
~ Wendy

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Good tips! I mostly use emotions I've experienced but I do enjoy using characteristics of people--usually just acquaintances or people I've seen in a store or out at coffee or something.

Jessica Nelson said...

I haven't gotten in trouble yet. lol I try not to consciously write about anyone but sometimes I find subconscious stuff in my books. lol Thanks for the tips.

Jan Cline said...

I have been made more aware of this recently. I tend to forget to write things down as they happen so Ive been keeping a few journals handy to jot down things when they happen. Which reminds me I need to go do that right now - some interesting stuff happened this weekend. So many human dynamics when you spend time with a crowd of people camping!

Jillian Kent said...

Hi Susan!
I agree with Jessica and the subconscious. I think stuff sneaks in there while I'm writing and I don't even realize it. It's not anything that's going to get me in trouble, but it's an interesting process.
Thanks for sharing these ideas.

Karen Lange said...

Good post. Will put this into practice as I develop my WIP. :)
Blessings,
Karen

Terri Tiffany said...

I wrote a book that seemed similar to real life in parts but I also then asked the family member and she gave permission to write whatever I needed to.

Jill Kemerer said...

I don't write about people I know, because I respect their privacy. Your suggestion to merge personalities into a fictional person is great advice.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Kristen -

Thanks for the idea. Changing gender could disguise the person's identity.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Marja -

Yes, it's definitely better to err on the side of caution.

Awhile back, I wrote an "as told to" story and changed all the names. It worked out great, and the person was delighted with the results.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Patti -

Fictionalizing real situations can be fun. I'm looking forward to reading your books. :)

Blessings,
Susan

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jody -

One thing I didn't mention: If the person is deceased, the dynamics change. Linore Burkhard's books come to mind. She writes on the Regency period and uses historical figures in her stories.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Wendy -

I'll have to check your archives and find that post. :)

Blessings,
Susan

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Cindy -

Not long ago, I observed a toddler at the laundromat. The interactions between her and her parents fascinated me, and I jotted down my impressions. One or all of them may someday appear in a novel or something based on their actions.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jess -

Hopefully, some of my tips will keep you in the good graces of others. :)

Blessings,
Susan

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jan -

LOL! I spent the weekend with family. I always marvel at how unique God made each of us. I probably should jot some interesting things down.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jillian -

Great to see you! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

I have to watch that all my characters don't end up sounding like me. Observing others and how they respond in given situations keeps that tendency in check.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Terri -

At least she's forewarned and won't be shocked. Many times, people will find it flattering that you want to use their characteristics in a book.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Karen -

There are so many reactions that can fit into any time period. They can be tweaked to take into account the social conventions and environment.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jill -

I like mixing it up - a kind of personality soup. :)

Blessings,
Susan

quietspirit said...

Susan:
In this one story I was working on, I added a situation that happened last summer. I turned it into a memory between two grown siblings. I also added another part to the original fact.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Quiet Spirit -

Interesting technique - a memory! Thanks for sharing.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Faith Imagined said...

My friends give me a lot of grace because I write about what God is teaching me, and many times He teaches me by using those around me!

However, I never use names....unless the topic is positive and I get permission!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Alisa -

You're blessed to have understanding friends. I'm sure they appreciate your sensitivity to their privacy. :)

Blessings,
Susan