Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Defamation of Character

At Christmas dinner this year, the entire family plus some of my brother's friends were around the table just chatting. Conversation turned to me and my book. My oldest youngest brother Ryan, who like all my brothers has not read Mind Over Monsters, jokingly said he was going to read it just so he could see what character I made him so he could sue me for defamation of character when I start making my millions. (If only.) Not missing a beat, I said, "But darling, you're not in it. None of you are." He seemed put off by this. All of those who hadn't read it seemed to feel the same. I just kept on eating.
One myth about writers is that we use our own lives and the people in them for material. In part this is true, but for me not to a huge extent. Sadly I don't run around every day with hot guys saving people's lives with a machete. (Only every other Sunday.) No, most of my life is spent in libraries alone writing, and the majority of my friends and family are equally as dull as I am. Us Harlow's are a lazy bunch who would much rather spend New Year's Eve watching TV together and drinking Absinthe then passing out before the ball even drops. (I still have a hangover.) The closest thing to a real person from my life I used was my best friend Shirley for Bea's best friend April, who is of Hispanic and a stylist. (Though when I wrote the book Shirley wasn't even in beauty school but has since graduated. Am I psychic? I hope not.) So no, I don't really use real people in my life as templates, but I do use real fake people. "Huh" you're asking yourself. Let me explain.
I have a very strange writing process to say the least. Since I was a child I've had insomnia. It usually takes me two hours to fall asleep every night, so in an attempt to stay sane I started creating stories in my mind that play like a movie. Movies need actors. So I cast my movie with actors I like at the time. So yes, Will, Oliver, Bea, even Andrew are at least in part based on real people, or at least the characters they play in movies or shows that captured my interest. Basically I ask myself if this was a real movie who would I want to play X? Who best embodies X? Or really I ask myself, in my fantasy world, who would I want to flirt with/kill/shag tonight? And then once I cast it, I ask myself what about that actor do I like about them or the character they play that would translate into my characters? So though my characters are based in part on real people, up to this point I have not met said people, so I only have my construct of them so they're real but not real. An avatar of the actor waiting to be filled with what I want/need for the character, which let's face it is what an actor's job is. It's my fantasy, so I use my fantasy people.
So I do not see any lawsuits from friends and family in my future. And should my stuff ever be turned into a movie (God willing) I have the cast list ready. What about you? Do you use your friends and family as inspiration in your writing? For those of you who read Mind Over Monsters, can you guess who Bea, Will, and Oliver are? I'll give you a hint: Bea is a TV doctor in Seattle, Will is a Geek God, and Oliver is gonna look great in tights next year. Speculate away.

Til next time.


Kathleen Ernst said...

Jennifer, I have long struggled with insomnia as well. I often use those wakeful hours to think through what I want to write the next day, and in the morning I think about it again before getting out of bed. Whatever works!

Robin Allen said...

I had the same questions come up when my book came out. I told a friend that I envisioned some of her mannerisms when I was writing Poppy's wicked stepmother. My friend said she "would rather be" Daisy, Poppy's cousin and best friend. I said, "Okay, you can be Daisy." :-)

p.s. What is it with brothers? Mine hasn't read my book either.

Shannon Baker said...

Jennifer, I have done that "movie" thing to fall asleep for as long as I can remember. I always got to play the amazing woman lead. Do you suppose we're both a little crazy?

Deborah Sharp said...

Good post, Jennifer. I use everybody I know to make up my characters, and then I deny, deny, deny when they ask me about it! The funny thing about it, is the people who are the jerks in my books never recognize themselves.

Beth Groundwater said...

I, too, often get questions asking if my characters are based on real people. My answer is that my characters ARE real people in my mind--themselves--so they aren't modeled on anyone else but themselves.