The Positives and Pitfalls of Basing a Fictional Novel on Real Life Events and People

As I’ve noted in countless interviews, my book Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal, is based on real people and events in my life. In my last post, I discussed the amazing evolution of the book, following an unexpected memory recall of significant personal events I’d previously blocked from my consciousness.  And while I believe these were all the products of divine timing and inspiration, and have no regrets for writing the book, I am also guided by integrity and a strong sense of right and wrong.

Therefore, I will never divulge the real identities of my characters, particularly Ken and Erin. True, there are some folks who, by virtue of actually being part of the real events (i.e. my family members), know who most of the real-life players are. That’s just the way it is, although none of them would ever go public with the information.

Someone whom I previously considered a friend recently put tremendous pressure on me via a series of emails to share the real identities behind the characters. Although I don’t recall, she claims I once trusted her with this information, and she’s simply asking now because she (thankfully) cannot remember. If I did break my own rule of conduct, I regret doing so in a moment of emotional weakness. I’ve done countless interviews with local reporters and on internet and a.m. radio, and have never once divulged the information. Actually, if memory serves correctly, not one of them even posed the question in the first place, as it is neither relevant, nor crucial to the enjoyment and significance of the story.

Thus, it clearly suffices to let readers know that yes — these personal experiences that highlight the tragedies and difficulties of the modern dating world, are indeed, rooted in reality. So yes, they are authentic, and yes, they help me make an important statement about our contemporary culture.

But it is enough to know that the men Madeline encounters in Water Signs are inspired by men I’ve met and dated in my own life. Period. Beyond that, their identities are no one else’s business. Ditto for other characters like Ken’s wife, Erin.  I live in a town where there are “six-degrees of separation” within a very tight business community, and it serves no good purpose for me to start naming names.

Further, there is the not-so-insignificant matter of my legal protection under copyright law. Why would I do anything to jeopardize that, when it was put into place specifically for that very reason — to protect me? I am truly stumped that a so-called friend would be incapable of understanding at least this last point, which I very carefully spelled out for her. Instead, she took my refusal to disclose the information as a personal insult, angry that I don’t “trust” her.

Information is a funny thing; it has a way of getting out in spite of the best intentions of the secret-keeper. And as I painstakingly explained, the more people who know the real names, the greater the chances of it leaking out in a town where everybody is ultimately connected to everybody else. And that has the potential to hurt some innocent people who aren’t even old enough to deal with the consequences.

If friends cannot understand or respect that, so be it.

Coming soon: Guidelines for fictionalizing real people.

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One response to “The Positives and Pitfalls of Basing a Fictional Novel on Real Life Events and People

  1. Kelly (Fitzgerald)

    Oh, Daria, that is so true!

    I wrote some non-fictional pieces and was warned of the ramifications of blow-back. Not to mention the invasive nature of publication on private lives.

    One could set oneself up for legal action as well.

    As for the hapless innocents, yes, certain things are best kept confidential to protect their identities.

    I look forward to your next installment!

    ~ Kelly

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