Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Using Real People in your Novels

Quite often I'm approached with the following question, "Can I use real people for the characters in my book"? My first response is to say, no, but, sometimes the opportunity to use a real person in a fictional setting just can't be ignored.

Let's say someone your met on a bus had some real interesting quirks that you want to have in your main character or your neighbor up the street has a way of talking to children that makes him the best guy on the block, or one of your customers really strikes a chord with you when it comes to a positive attitude.

Should you use these real people in your books?

In this case, (because they are not family members) I would say, yes, with these caveats:
  • Change the first and last name of the character(s).
  • Mix and match hair color, clothing styles, eye color, etc. If the name has been changed to protect your innocent neighbor, make sure distinquishing physical traits are not 100 percent accurate.

  • Place a disclaimer at the beginning of your book. My book, "A River of Stones," says, "Athough this is primarly a work of fiction, some true-life experiences have been woven into the narrative. In presenting this story, every effort has been made to protect the feelings of others. Characters based on real persons do appear in this book; however, their names and many of their traits and circumstances have been changed."
Because my book was based on my experience as a young girl with divorcing parents, there are many reasons that I was cautious in presenting this story. Although fiction, and although I had taken great care in writing this novel, there were still family members who were concerned about what I had written. 

When using family members in your work of fiction, take as many precautions as possible using the ideas above, but prepare yourself for some possible fallout.

In the end, if you know your story must be told, (and you have done everything possible in protecting others) tell it.
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