A few weeks ago I posted a photo on my FB page that said, “If you were in my novel, I’d have killed you off by now.” I’d like to say that was a joke, but the unfortunate part (for everyone else) of being a writer is that I really do use a large chunks of life for my writing. I just don’t use the parts people think I’m going to… or should.
Over the years I’ve had several people offer me “really great” suggestions about what to include in a novel and I’ve taken absolutely none of them. What I have taken, or pilfered, as the case may be, are people’s stories, experience, and random bits of dialogue. Don’t tell me that pine needle basket weaving is a skill you keep up in case of the zombie apocalypse if you don’t want that included in a piece of Maines fiction. Don’t invent clever catch phrases about basic life principles if you don’t want them written down (I’m looking at you Dad aka Ray “Lugnut Rule” Maines).
But when it comes to using an actual person, I try not to do that. For one thing, I know some pretty complex people and capturing them in fiction sounds hard. And for another… I’m mean. I really will kill people off, or worse. I made one of my favorite characters the villain in my first novel what do you think I’d do to someone that annoyed me in real life. Next thing you know, snooty waitress, you’re going to be a drug mule for an incompetent Norwegian drug lord and TSA will be all up in yer bidness.
That’s not to say I’ve never done it, but it seems like those “characters” never make the final cut; they get edited out before the final draft. I think it’s because fictional revenge might be fun, but it doesn’t make a good story. It’s hard to draft a solid plot around the impulse to bash an acquaintance in the head, unless the plot is “writer kills client who looks like Toad from Wind in theWillows.”
But that got me to thinking, if I was going to put someone in a novel, who should it be? My grandmother? My business partner? The annoying neighbor with the miniature horse? Or the highly suspicious old dudes across the street who might be running a chop shop? Who would you put in a novel?