March 16, 2011

RTW: A mixed palette

Each week, YA Highway hosts Road Trip Wednesday, a blog carnival in which YA Highwayers discuss a topic on their blogs and invite readers to do the same. This week's RTW topic is:

Who (from real life) have you written into a book?

Like most writers, tidbits of people I know find their way into my writing.

One character in PRODIGAL MAGGIE is based very (very very very very) loosely on a mixture of my Mama and Molly Weasley.

Another character has an alligator mouth and a hummingbird butt like me, but she's just distressed enough to actually be scary, unlike me.

Another character shares a few traits with my brother.

As I said in a previous post (almost a year ago to the day), "I start with a real or fictional person as a jumping off point, then mutate, add, and subtract traits until the final product barely resembles the original inspiration."

Original here
Borrowing traits from ourselves or from observing others is all we can do. As good as we writers are, we cannot create human traits - only mix them in a palette to create the character of our choosing.

Of course, we only talk about the positive traits we borrow, and maybe not even then. Who wants to admit you borrowed X's raging temper or the mole on the end of Y's nose in creating your character? Not only could it cause hurt feelings, it could get you in trouble.

After all, Kathryn Stockett is being sued by a maid who feels one of Stockett's characters in THE HELP is too similar to her. And agent Jessica Faust posted recently about why writing real people into books may not be such a good idea, creatively or legally, if you'd like to check that out.

So, to answer this week's RTW: I've written a few pieces of non-fiction narrative about real people (which are intended for family and friends only) but I've never actually written a whole person into a fictional book.

What about you? Have you ever written a person into a book, or do you cherrypick traits like me?

10 comments:

Alicia Gregoire said...

I like how you combined Molly Weasley and your mom. I never think of picking traits from fictional people.

Erinn said...

You make some excellent points and i"m glad that you cited other blogs that talk about that same topic.
Awesome as always

Kaitlin Ward said...

It's really fun to mix and match traits you like (or dislike!) from friends and family and see what comes out.

Miss Cole said...

Cherry-picking definitely. When I was younger I used to write stories about school friends but it always became awkward when the friendships naturally broke down.

Thanks for the links :)

Sarah Enni said...

Totally agree with your statement -- a year ago and today :) And thanks for that link to Jessica Faust's post, I had missed that!

Jess said...

Love this: "As good as we writers are, we cannot create human traits - only mix them in a palette to create the character of our choosing."

And those articles are great! I scrapped a recent WIP based on a similar piece I read a few months ago. The book would have been based on an experience I had with a guy back in college, and even though I hoped to portray it as a romantic comedy, I decided it wasn't worth the risk that someone would see it as slander.

danaalisonlevy said...

So interesting! I heart Molly Weasley - a great inspiration indeed.

Alison Miller said...

Molly Weasley - love!

Yes - I agree. I actually use tidbits - never a whole person. But my post describes someone I didn't even know until AFTER I wrote my book. It's a project that's under the bed so I guess I don't have to worry about getting sued for that one. Great info!

Katy said...

I'm definitely a cherry-picker. While I love my friends and family, I'm not sure if any of them is interesting enough to make it into a YA novel. Plus, I think borrowing here and there brings out a more well-rounded character. Great post, and thanks for the links. :)

KO: The Insect Collector said...

taking bits and pieces-- I think that's smart.

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