Friends of Fiction Writers

An interesting issue arose out of a workshop piece this week that I wanted to open up for discussion. Fiction writers aren’t tied down with the strings of factual truth (story truth, yes, but that’s another issue), and so we are able to pull pieces from our lives without telling things as they happened. For instance, I could pull a description of a friend or a family member, combine it with a mannerism of a classmate and a dialogue quirk of a coworker to create a new character, one who is not representative of any of the people from whom I pulled.

The issue, though, can arise when someone recognizes his or herself, especially if the composite character is of the less-than-flattering variety. So my question is this:

As a writer, do I have a moral or ethical obligation to my friends and family to not create characters based too heavily on them? Where does one draw the line? What’s the difference between flattery and offense? How would you feel if you recognized pieces of yourself in one of my characters? Does the type of character matter?


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