A Writing Journey

Basing Novels on Real Life

Last week I talked a lot about the novel I wrote with a friend during high school. Here is the part I didn’t tell you:

We were best friends, brought together by our love for writing. We based our novel on our friendship, and our lives (with some decidedly fantastic and fictional elements). In our story, the two best friends fought for most of the story (that was the conflict, or part of it). And then we started fighting. We took on the roles of our characters and internalized their conflict. We made something fictional into something real. And our friendship broke.

There are dangers to basing a story, or characters, or situations on real life. Think about all the memes that have writers threatening to kill off characters based on people that bother them while writing. What if that person is you brother or sister? What if that person is your significant other? Think about the damage that can do to a relationship. Think about how uncomfortable someone could be if they realize that a conversation you had with them is now in print.

Of course, there are many people who would not be bothered by this, but many are bothered by it.

Do you think it is acceptable to base stories, characters, or situations on real life? Why or why not?

Take care, fellow travelers.

Comments on: "Basing Novels on Real Life" (4)

  1. Personally, I would never do it directly. I would feel guilty about it–unless, I suppose, it was something good, like a great joke someone told me or a fun family function. But if it was something like an argument, I wouldn’t put it in.

    However, I do usually tuck those experiences away somewhere as inspiration, because even if I don’t use the exact fight, I would use the emotions I experienced and my anger towards the other person as a way to give the scene depth.

  2. I think it’s okay to base stories off real life, but there are limits. You have to keep the fiction out of reality and make sure the other people involved do the same. I based a lot of my initial characters off friends in high school. Another option is to simply not tell someone it’s based on reality. Change enough, so it isn’t easily recognizable.

  3. I base stories and characters on real life events all the time. I think it’s fine, as long as it’s clear that the characters/situations are not exact replicas of real life. And of course, there are those readers you know in real life who will always try to find themselves in any story you write.

  4. katpersephone said:

    My best friends and I did this during high school, too. We each had our own character based on ourselves and a love interest based on someone we had a crush on. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you, but it did for us. Of course, those stories are as far from publishable as they can get, but we had fun and we made sure we each had enough independence with our character and our writing to do what we pleased to ourselves and each other. We also had fun seeing what each of us would do to each other because we wouldn’t do anything particularly mean. We know each other well enough and love and respect each other enough that it worked out. So, long story short, I think it can work to base stories on real life as long as one doesn’t lose perspective and are able to come back out of the story and say, “Well, it’s just the story and I don’t have to take it back into real life.”

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