When I wrote my Arbor University series, I based the characters on some Real People. I was careful (with a few exceptions), to a) get their permission and b) let them preview the story before I submitted it for publication.
The exceptions: I had lost contact with a few, but since we’ve reconnected, and I now control all the content since my rights have returned, I sent the parties involved a copy of the stories and told them if anything they found objectionable, I’d be happy to change it. So far, of these parties, no one has objected. In fact, I even used one’s name as a placeholder, but forgot to change it. Now that particular story is about to be re-released, and I offered to find another name, but was told by that person not to change it:)
Sometimes you’re not going to have this experience….I’m just happy to have understanding (and flattered!) friends!
Of all the friends who previewed ‘their’ story, only one had a minor objection: The fictional name was too close to their real one, so it was a minor change I was happy to make.
Of the ones who didn’t get a chance to preview, I did receive praise for fictionalizing so much of the details, even they didn’t recognize themselves!
In short, I was lucky. No one has sued me yet, for ‘defamation of character’ or ‘invasion of privacy’.
Keep in mind, the above stories were written 1985-2009. All stories since are completely fictional.
Why is it better to completely invent characters?
Because you don’t have to jump through the above hoops when you write!
Now, that’s not to say I don’t draw inspirations from Real People….I speculate where Life might take them, and pick and choose the tiny details I know to include in the story. For instance, if I happen to know someone with pink streaks in her hair and a lip ring, I might include a character with, say, purple streaks and a nose ring. See there? Change a few details and my friend never knows it’s her, unless I tell her.
Another writer friend jokingly refers to herself as a ‘Professional Liar’, since we all bend the truth to write our stories, and spin them to sell. After all, how many times has an author hooked you with a blurb or an excerpt, only to discover you can’t finish the book, due to whatever reason?
Characters matter. But if you base them on Real People, take precautions.
What’s YOUR opinion?
I’m off to the North HS Spring Craft Fair in Evansville Saturday! Wish me luck; the past two events have only averaged one sale per event. Last year, things didn’t pick up until May, but I’m hoping with the two new ones arriving soon, and since this is the first time I’ve done this particular event, people will be interested in reading my work:)