Countering “Hey, I don’t like what you wrote about me!”

Okay, I admit it, I use real people as the models for some of the people in my stories. My two leading ladies in my Morelville Mysteries series for example, are based on myself (very loosely) and on my spouse (somewhat loosely). Some of my other characters have appearances like people I know – but they don’t act like them. Other characters have similar traits and mannerisms to people I know but they look nothing like them. No character in my stories ever carries the name of their model, if they had one.

The thing about names is – I’m going to digress here for a minute – is that there are only so many that are plausible to use for a mystery story set in a present day small Ohio village and slightly larger neighboring town. If I was writing futuristic fantasy or sci-fi I could make up crazy names but that just doesn’t fly in Morelville. If I name someone in a story ‘Delores’, that doesn’t mean that any real ‘Delores’ that I know (I knew one but I lost track of her years ago) is being portrayed.

I purposely didn’t have family members read my books because they are models for some characters. You can’t make some of the stuff they really do up. It’s just too good not to use. Names, ages and appearances have been changed, of course, to protect the innocent and not so innocent but they’d definitely see themselves should they read my stuff. I did give the books to a select few friends to read. NONE of them are portrayed in the stories and they won’t be…unless they want to be. I need them for moral support and their input on what works and what doesn’t and what I have dead wrong.

I’ve had a couple of people that I know read the first two books and see themselves in them, so far. In one case, the person was dead wrong. He wasn’t in the story at all but imagined I was talking about him. In another case, the person was dead on that I used them as a character model and she didn’t like it one whit but I portrayed her traits, habits and mannerisms exactly as they are. She refuses to see it. She has a different name in the book and I’ve described her appearance very differently. If she sues me, she sues me. Unless her mother reads the book too and sees her in it too, she doesn’t have a case.

There’s one person that’s going to be a stickler for me. The model is just nosy enough to buy one of the books and read it and I know see themselves in it. The portrayal is also dead on and not at all flattering. So how do I counter that? I don’t yet know but I’ve been thinking about it because it’s going to happen and I need to be ready. Thoughts?


About Anne Hagan

I'm an East Central Ohio based government employee by day and a fiction author by night. I specialize in mystery fiction featuring lesbian sleuths and cozy fiction featuring women sleuths. I also dabble in romance especially romantic lesfic. I live with my wife and our dogs in a tiny town that’s even smaller than the Morelville of my first fiction series and we wouldn't have it any other way. My wife grew up here and she has always called this little village home. Though it’s an ultra-conservative rural community, we're surrounded here by family, longtime friends and many other wonderful people with open hearts and minds. My wife and I are the co-owners of a commercial haunted house: Hagan's House of Horrors. Much as my dream has always been to write fiction, hers has been to create it through the medium of horror. We went full commercial in 2015. Watch us as we grow!
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2 Responses to Countering “Hey, I don’t like what you wrote about me!”

  1. It’s wrong to base all your characters off of people you know. Yes, you could get sued, but most people don’t have the money for the legal fees to just up and sue something, so mostly it’s just incredibly rude. You should be imaginative enough to make your own characters, that’s part of being a writer. Yes you can use traits and appearances of real people because it’s through observing other people we learn how to craft our own characters, but using the people you know is tacky. Whether or not what you wrote was accurate, it was incredibly rude to write bad things about a person and then have them read it. “Yes, I did write the character about her but she doesn’t have a case unless someone else can prove it’s her because she won’t ever see my confession in this blog post hahaha” is also a bad post to have as a writer blogging to build an audience. Should readers fear that if they get too close to you they’ll end up as an antagonist in your next novel if they annoy you? You’re not a journalist fighting for freedom of speech, you’re just an author saying “I can’t make up characters so I put my friends in my novel and don’t care if they get upset about it because I’m a terrible friend.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anne Hagan says:

    I appreciate your comments Charlotte. I believe you misunderstood me to a degree. For example, in my first line, I said, “I use real people as the models for SOME of the people in my stories.” That’s my emphasis now on the word “some”. Quite a few of my characters are completely made up. Others use only traits, or habits of people I know, again as I mentioned in the first paragraph.

    Writers write best when they write what they know. In non-fiction it’s libelous if you name names and you say things that aren’t true and can be proven not to be true. In fiction, where we have a triumvirate of name, personality and appearance changing any two of those makes a character different than the model that you have in mind. In every case I’ve changed the name. In most cases, I’ve changed the appearance. In most cases I’ve exaggerated either some good qualities or some bad ones. These characters are mine but they have a base in something or in SOME cases someone because I have to have somewhere for my minds eye to start with.

    As I said above, one person saw himself in a book and he was dead wrong. I wasn’t even thinking of him when I wrote it. He’d never crossed my mind. Looking back, the character did some things that he’s done but only resembled him in those couple of things and not in attitude, background, etc. We share experiences with a lot of people. You can’t read into everything you read in a book and believe it’s about you just because it’s by an author that you know.

    The person that was right that I used her I wasn’t flattered by the portrayal. She was one of those “you just can’t make this stuff up” characters. Her name is different in the book and so is her appearance. She still saw right through it but no one else will unless they know her really well and they know some of the things she’s done and thus the comment about it never going anywhere unless her mother reads it and sees her there too. I’ve used nothing I can’t back up. Is it wrong for me to have used her? Your opinion is yes. Others say I’ve done enough to make her different.

    I’m working on book three now. All of the new (not previously introduced) characters in this book are completely made up. One started out to be someone from my ancient past but, for purposes of the story, using that person just wasn’t working. I changed the character completely. I’m sure though that someone will read the book and see themselves in the character.

    Thanks again for your comments.



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