Don’t I Know You?

The question comes up a lot, in classes I teach, when I tell people I write fiction: Do you use people you know in your stories?

Well, duh. Of course I use people I know in my stories. If I went around using people I don’t know in my stories, I’d have a bunch of flat, uninteresting characters.

Very few of my characters, however, are flat-out one-for-one representations of people I know. I may use one friend’s speech pattern for a character, for example. Or someone’s tale of woe may be the start of a story. Another friend’s family background might be useful for filling out the history of a character. It all boils down to things that I know, things that resonate with me and happen to suit my story.

I use my family a lot. I can’t help it. While I love my family dearly, we have so much drama and conflict exploding at any given time it’s like a cross between Dallas and Family Guy. How can I resist telling stories about affairs that bring down empires, criminals so talented they baffle the cops even when caught, and Oedipus-worthy manipulations for inappropriate familial affections?

My friends and family often try to pick themselves out in my stories. They usually go one of two ways: either they completely mistake a character with no relation to them whatsoever as their fictional doppelganger, or they never recognize themselves at all. They may be able to pick out other people in the fiction, but hardly ever themselves.

It’s always a great relief – who doesn’t worry that even an innocuous representation may offend? – not to mention a decent source of amusement. I love that people have such a hard time seeing themselves as others do, as they are pictured in fiction. It immediately makes everyone a more complex character…one I can use. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *