Beware the writer!

Cat_243_dover_16 By Mary Jo:

Today I was going to blog on the question about how becoming published changes our feelings about writing.  Susan Miranda has already done an excellent post on this topic, and I’ll get back to it another Friday, since it’s one of those areas that is different for everyone. 

But I was distracted by a T-shirt that I spotted in one of the river of catalogs that flows into my mail box.  The shirt says, “Careful or you’ll end up in my novel.”  As the sales copy said, writers love this.  <g>  (There’s a sweat shirt version, too.  http://tinyurl.com/yk2ang at signals.com) 

After all, isn’t revenge on people who have tormented us one of the delights of being a writer?  Now is the time to get even with the cool kids who snubbed us in high school!  Or the office fascist who took obscene pleasure in oppressing the underlings.  Or the ex-boyfriend who cheated or the one loved mind games.  Don’t spill a drink on a writer at a party, or you’ll live to regret it!

At least, that’s the legend.  What’s the truth? 

As always, truth is variable.  I do know writers who have been wronged and who gleefully put the causes of their pain into the next book, but given liability concerns, their victims are generally disguised.  I know a case where a husband walked into a writer’s office when she was online and told her that he was leaving her. Since she’s a mystery writer, you can imagine what happened to him in her next book. <G> 

Still, in my experience, real life villains rarely show up in novels without some Hherowings_1 changes along the way.  Characters in books need to behave in ways that fit the story, which may mean that the transgressor gets altered to fit the action.  Or several irritating people might be blended into one.  What matters is that the writer knows who that fictional character really is under the cosmetic changes.

I suffer from a disability in the revenge area because I like just about everyone and I do malice very badly.  Nonetheless, the world around me is the raw material of stories.  While I’ve never put a real person into a story wholesale (barring Wellington historical figures like Wellington), I’ve used pieces of people, or perhaps some of their traits.  A friend’s creatively painted fingernails showed up on one flamboyant Georgian character.  Another friend said that after her wedding, her new husband paused on the way out to ring the church’s bell.  I love that joyous image of pealing bells so much that it went into my one medieval. 

Much more common is to transmute the essence of an experience into a story.  The events and people may be superficially different, but the emotions come from real experiences.  An ability to remember pain is actually very useful—pain can be transformed in ways that make one’s hapless characters seem authentic.  (This is why it is generally considered a detriment if a writer has a happy childhood. <g>) 

Fox_with_hounds I’ve never been a Chinese Scottish woman living in Macao and forced to live as a male—but what person who has gone through adolescence can’t identify with feelings of alienation?  Being an outsider is an emotion everyone feels sooner or later, and tapping into that emotion can lend power to a characterization.  (The picture at the right shows a fox hiding out among the hounds.  Talk about alienation!)

Does this mean that if you know writers, you run the risk of turning up in their novels?  Probably not—it’s easier to invent characters.  Yet even though I don’t put people from my life into my books, the cats are always based on real cats.  Go figure.

Angel_rogue_3Do you have people in your life you’d like to put in books?  Or have put in books?  Tell me about them!  Discreetly, of course.  <g>

Mary Jo

27 thoughts on “Beware the writer!”

  1. I have a couple of former bosses that I’d *like* to use as villains, but so far the right opportunity hasn’t presented itself. One of them, with only slight exaggeration, would make the perfect harasser of his children’s governess, and the other would make a great incompetent officer too stubborn to listen to his underlings.
    I did once name a villain after a politician I particularly disliked (the name is fairly common and perfectly period-appropriate, or I wouldn’t have done so). It was petty revenge, but satisfying nonetheless.

    Reply
  2. I have a couple of former bosses that I’d *like* to use as villains, but so far the right opportunity hasn’t presented itself. One of them, with only slight exaggeration, would make the perfect harasser of his children’s governess, and the other would make a great incompetent officer too stubborn to listen to his underlings.
    I did once name a villain after a politician I particularly disliked (the name is fairly common and perfectly period-appropriate, or I wouldn’t have done so). It was petty revenge, but satisfying nonetheless.

    Reply
  3. I have a couple of former bosses that I’d *like* to use as villains, but so far the right opportunity hasn’t presented itself. One of them, with only slight exaggeration, would make the perfect harasser of his children’s governess, and the other would make a great incompetent officer too stubborn to listen to his underlings.
    I did once name a villain after a politician I particularly disliked (the name is fairly common and perfectly period-appropriate, or I wouldn’t have done so). It was petty revenge, but satisfying nonetheless.

    Reply
  4. I’m too much like you, MJ, to add a really good comment. I harness the emotion and not the character. I may pick up on little quirks I’ve seen people use, like straightening their china so the painted picture is aligned with the table’s edge, or constant lateness and procrastination, but a whole character is just way too difficult to fit into a romance unless one knows someone of hero quality. “G”

    Reply
  5. I’m too much like you, MJ, to add a really good comment. I harness the emotion and not the character. I may pick up on little quirks I’ve seen people use, like straightening their china so the painted picture is aligned with the table’s edge, or constant lateness and procrastination, but a whole character is just way too difficult to fit into a romance unless one knows someone of hero quality. “G”

    Reply
  6. I’m too much like you, MJ, to add a really good comment. I harness the emotion and not the character. I may pick up on little quirks I’ve seen people use, like straightening their china so the painted picture is aligned with the table’s edge, or constant lateness and procrastination, but a whole character is just way too difficult to fit into a romance unless one knows someone of hero quality. “G”

    Reply
  7. If I had written my life story (as it was about three years ago) as opposed to romance novels, I’d be a NYTB author (providing I could do the whole thing justice, of course).
    Can you say: THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA!

    Reply
  8. If I had written my life story (as it was about three years ago) as opposed to romance novels, I’d be a NYTB author (providing I could do the whole thing justice, of course).
    Can you say: THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA!

    Reply
  9. If I had written my life story (as it was about three years ago) as opposed to romance novels, I’d be a NYTB author (providing I could do the whole thing justice, of course).
    Can you say: THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA!

    Reply
  10. Yup! Life’s offered ingredients are simply too yummy to resist, and into the book soup they go.
    I mostly use real people as inspiration, or springboards, into characters who then become quite distinct on their own.
    And in a reversal of “writer’s revenge” I saved a character whose real-life counterpart died.
    Jane

    Reply
  11. Yup! Life’s offered ingredients are simply too yummy to resist, and into the book soup they go.
    I mostly use real people as inspiration, or springboards, into characters who then become quite distinct on their own.
    And in a reversal of “writer’s revenge” I saved a character whose real-life counterpart died.
    Jane

    Reply
  12. Yup! Life’s offered ingredients are simply too yummy to resist, and into the book soup they go.
    I mostly use real people as inspiration, or springboards, into characters who then become quite distinct on their own.
    And in a reversal of “writer’s revenge” I saved a character whose real-life counterpart died.
    Jane

    Reply
  13. From MJP:
    I see that using bits and pieces of real people seems to be the norm, rather than sticking them into books wholesale. Cathy, it would have been cool if you could have Prada-ized a prior boss and become a bestseller in the process.
    Jane makes a good point that in stories, we can deal not only with the villains, but create happy endings for those who deserve them.
    It’s good to be a goddess in your own world. 🙂
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  14. From MJP:
    I see that using bits and pieces of real people seems to be the norm, rather than sticking them into books wholesale. Cathy, it would have been cool if you could have Prada-ized a prior boss and become a bestseller in the process.
    Jane makes a good point that in stories, we can deal not only with the villains, but create happy endings for those who deserve them.
    It’s good to be a goddess in your own world. 🙂
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  15. From MJP:
    I see that using bits and pieces of real people seems to be the norm, rather than sticking them into books wholesale. Cathy, it would have been cool if you could have Prada-ized a prior boss and become a bestseller in the process.
    Jane makes a good point that in stories, we can deal not only with the villains, but create happy endings for those who deserve them.
    It’s good to be a goddess in your own world. 🙂
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  16. What an interesting thought! At first glance I would say “Yeah sure, I could put that &*@# in a book and make him be the bad guy that gets his just desserts” but I probably wouldn’t; but I’d like to!
    Overall I imagine it would be much simpler, as both MJ and Patricia mentioned, to use individual quirks or mannerisms or some facet of a real person that catches your attention, something unique, than it would be to add a whole character.
    But I read, don’t write, stories; so any getting back will have to be in my imagination or, hey!, in a letter that I don’t mail. ^.^
    Kathy

    Reply
  17. What an interesting thought! At first glance I would say “Yeah sure, I could put that &*@# in a book and make him be the bad guy that gets his just desserts” but I probably wouldn’t; but I’d like to!
    Overall I imagine it would be much simpler, as both MJ and Patricia mentioned, to use individual quirks or mannerisms or some facet of a real person that catches your attention, something unique, than it would be to add a whole character.
    But I read, don’t write, stories; so any getting back will have to be in my imagination or, hey!, in a letter that I don’t mail. ^.^
    Kathy

    Reply
  18. What an interesting thought! At first glance I would say “Yeah sure, I could put that &*@# in a book and make him be the bad guy that gets his just desserts” but I probably wouldn’t; but I’d like to!
    Overall I imagine it would be much simpler, as both MJ and Patricia mentioned, to use individual quirks or mannerisms or some facet of a real person that catches your attention, something unique, than it would be to add a whole character.
    But I read, don’t write, stories; so any getting back will have to be in my imagination or, hey!, in a letter that I don’t mail. ^.^
    Kathy

    Reply
  19. Like many writers, I tend to use a bit from this person, a snippet from another person, and so forth. I can’t think of an instance where I’ve dropped a real-life person wholesale into one of my novels.
    If there is some baddie in my real life, I prefer to write their name on the bottom of my shoe where I’ll have the childish but harmless satisfaction of stomping on them, as opposed to making them live forever in the pages of my novels.

    Reply
  20. Like many writers, I tend to use a bit from this person, a snippet from another person, and so forth. I can’t think of an instance where I’ve dropped a real-life person wholesale into one of my novels.
    If there is some baddie in my real life, I prefer to write their name on the bottom of my shoe where I’ll have the childish but harmless satisfaction of stomping on them, as opposed to making them live forever in the pages of my novels.

    Reply
  21. Like many writers, I tend to use a bit from this person, a snippet from another person, and so forth. I can’t think of an instance where I’ve dropped a real-life person wholesale into one of my novels.
    If there is some baddie in my real life, I prefer to write their name on the bottom of my shoe where I’ll have the childish but harmless satisfaction of stomping on them, as opposed to making them live forever in the pages of my novels.

    Reply

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