UNABRIDGED event flyer

On Saturday, October 25th my spouse and I attended a Lambda Literary event titled “UNABRIDGED: A Conversation with Ana Castillo, Andrew Holleran, and Justin Torres” at the Armory for the Arts Theater here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The event consisted of readings from each of the three authors, followed by a discussion with the author panel moderated by Amy Scholder.

real life people as characters?

Alice Darwin (@alicewriterland)

I came away from the event with a greater appreciation for the challenges writers face in navigating the line between fiction and nonfiction when their writing is inspired by real life people. When Amy asked a question about self-censorship in writing, Justin talked about breaking “the cardinal rule of telling family secrets” in his book, even though it was about a fictional family. Andrew commented that culture is moving toward “exposure” and that sometimes the line between fiction and nonfiction is hard to negotiate because “the best characters are the ones you can observe minutely.”

While considering this challenge, I came across a useful article from Writer’s Relief. Here are three excerpts on the topic:

Most fiction is autobiographical to some extent, as writers draw from their real-world experiences. . . . Sometimes a story is created from the tiniest real-life detail.

If you think about the lives of ordinary people, there’s not usually a novel to be had. Real life is messy and complicated and doesn’t follow the rules of fiction; it’s also boring at times. . .mundane. The trick is to lift characters, events, tragedies, and triumphs from the pages of real life and create a new existence for them.

Disguising a real-life story as fiction doesn’t necessarily ensure that you’ll avoid lawsuits. . . . Better to model a character after [a real person]; as a writer, you can improve on the character to better suit your story, and no one will be humiliated.