Every now and then, in a joking way, I tell my friends to be careful lest they end up as characters in my next book. Of course the same applies to my enemies, but they are seldom around to hear me give the warning.
There has to be consideration of libel laws, character assassination and loss of friendships, but most writers write about what they know. We write about people we see or meet, but who would we know better than our friends and our enemies?
Over the years I have written more than 20 manuscripts, mostly for practice and my own entertainment when on consulting assignments in foreign countries. I can only think of two manuscripts in which I directly recorded physical and personality characteristics of friends on the printed page. When I wrote My Knight in Shining Armor, I memorialized my late college friend who died in Vietnam. I not only used his real name, 2nd Lt. George Stivers, but tried to give him the same personality as he had displayed in college. My concept was to bring him back from the dead through literature to enjoy his chosen career and have a chance for romance with the girl of his dreams.
The other time was after I had been at my 40th reunion. All the writing coaches advise us to write about what we know so I wrote about a reunion caught in a crisis. As I wrote, it was a little startling to see my classmates come to life on the computer screen. I did change most of the names, but I suspect that any of my classmates could have read the manuscript and correctly identified most of the characters. Perhaps it is just as well I never published that manuscript. At my age, I am losing too many friends to death. There is no need to make any of the survivors angry.
As it turns out, my friends and relatives do populate my stories. I have not used any of my enemies, but several of my enemies would make good villains. My technique is to merge several personalities into one character. A character, I will call Dave may have Sam’s physical appearance, but John’s personality with a few of Sam’s habits thrown in. Dave may be a combination of Sam and John, but he will take some action that Charles once did. So is the character, Dave, taken from Sam, John or Charles?
As I flesh out a character, I usually find that none of my friends are exactly what the story needs. That is why I merge personalities together. I get richer characters, custom made for the plot in which they must function.
You ask about villains. Usually I have to make them out of whole cloth because no one I know has quite the right makeup to have the right combination of evil and potentially redeeming characteristics.
I did need a villain for a subplot, and once did cast in that role a girl who once jilted me. I did change her name, but left the rest of her alone. I did not assassinate her character. After all she is a classmate and a friend, and she plays the villain’s role in a manuscript that probably will never see the light of day.
Writers, take care of your friends and enemies. You never know when you will need them to populate your next novel.
Reynold is the author of three published novels and two novellas that have been published only as e-books. For information about Reynold and his work, see his website, ReynoldConger.com. His books can be purchased on his website or from most on-line book sellers.