A Temptation Writers Must Avoid

Sometimes when you’re working on a new book, you get so excited that you’re just dying to talk about it. Especially if you come up with a character based on someone you know. The temptation is strong to tell that person, “Guess what? I’m basing a character on you!” Well, let me give you some advice: DON’T.

A while back, a friend of mine shared an anecdote about his life. It was a really charming story about how a failure had taught him an important lesson. I was impressed because said friend is extremely smart and multi-talented, and I was a little surprised to hear that he’d ever failed at anything. And I was even more impressed that he had the humility to share it. So I couldn’t help but open my big mouth and tell him how I was creating a character in my WIP based on him and his story. Big mistake.

Because here’s what happened: My editors convinced me that this character would be a lot more entertaining if I made him quirkier. As in “extremely socially awkward” quirkier. “Unattractive to most people” quirkier. My editors, as usual, were right–it did make the character more interesting. But imagine my embarrassment when I had to tell my friend that the character was like him ONLY IN THE GOOD WAYS. He seemed skeptical, and I couldn’t blame him. I ended up feeling terrible about the whole thing because the seed of inspiration was that this talented person had such humility, and now I’d come up with a character who was very different than what I’d first envisioned.

My character Kyra in Tig Ripley was a similar circumstance. I started thinking of how cool it would be if some middle school girls had their own rock band, and even cooler if two of them were cousins since my cousin and I have been best friends since I was 14. So Kyra was originally supposed to be this great confidante for my heroine, but it turned out, that didn’t give the story enough conflict. So Kyra ended up being obsessed with popularity and pretty whiny and annoying, completely unlike my BFF cousin. I had to make sure all my cousins knew that I was not Tig and they were not Kyra. Otherwise, family reunions could have gotten pretty awkward.

A word to the wise: wait until the manuscript is complete and the last round of edits are in before you tell someone you’ve based a character on him/her.

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