August 17, 2010

Never Write About Your Friends, A True Story

*sigh* Writing is hard. You have to create characters, create plots, incorporate themes, and then you have to write the damned thing. When your in high school and you are somewhat creative, like to write, and friends with a bunch of anime geeks, you kind of have half the story pre made. See, at least in my experience, my anime friends and I followed a set of tropes because you know... that made things easy. We didn't have to see each other beyond our love of anime and other mutual interests. And then you grow up, realize that you were a moron in high school, go to college, and meet other people who you get to know on a deep and complex level. Hopefully, you'll learn to realize that your high school friends are complex and deep individuals as well. And then you have the cases when you realize that... the people you were friends with are morons who will contribute nothing to the world. (harsh, but true).

Why am I saying all this? Because, I, dear readers, made a terrible mistake when I was in high school. I wrote a story about it. A story that I should never have let see the light of day, but instead had such high hopes that it would one day get written, become a huge success, become a cartoon series, and rocket launch me into international stardom and happiness. I became invested in it, my friends became invested in it, and then it just snowballed and got out of hand.

  1. By the time your story gets published, you might not be friends with this person anymore. Or they may not be friends with each other. I can tell you I cut so many characters after the revamp of IAR, it's not even funny. It's not a coincidence that these people aren't my friends anymore, but apparently their traits and personalities can be combined into one catch-all character. In addition, I've been in plenty of situations where I was friends with two people who used to be friends, we're written to be friends in the book, and now hate each other. What is an author to do? Kill them both off, of course. No, not really. I really have no idea what's going to happen in the book because I didn't expect this to happen. But c'est la vie, sometimes as you grow up, you aren't friends anymore. The things you use to love about your friend, now turn you off. What can you do? I honestly don't know. 
  2. It's hard to kill your friends in a story, even if it's integral to the plot. My friend, T, and I discussed this a bit in high school and determined that we can't kill off anyone except for the character that isn't based off of anyone. To be honest, that character is one of my favorite characters because he has so much depth and I have the freedom to do whatever I want to him. With the characters my friends are based off of, not so much. Of course, they may say they don't mind getting bumped off, but when you actually do it, you may get something like "Why did you bump me off and not so-and-so? They deserved it more." It's easier to keep them all alive than it is to kill one of. It might be important to the plot, but it's definitely not worth losing a friend over.
  3. It's harder to keep your friend's in character. There are certain personality quirks I want to give a friend's character that don't occur in real life. There are things that I want a character to say that a friend would never say in real life. This becomes a problem when only a certain character has the information that other characters need, but has to deliver in a way that's true to the friend's character.
  4. It's hard to give your character flaws. It's nearly impossible to do. I mean, sure for the bio sheets we can analyze ourselves and our friends and choose out a few flaws to put on paper. But when it comes to actually writing, you don't want these flaws to become overwhelming to the point where the character is obnoxious. Then you don't want your friend to say "I don't act like that!" when they really do or at least that's the way you perceive them acting.
  5.  It's harder to cut a character entirely if they are your friend. So thinking about where I want to take this particular story (or even if I still want to write it the way it was or change it completely), I wonder if I have to cut a character because they are integral to the plot or story. We may still be friends in real life, but story wise their character isn't holding their own or is getting overshadowed by other characters. How do you tell someone their character isn't cutting it for the story? It's like telling them they've been fired... I'm not sure if I'm going to have to do this one or not.
  6. You could lose a friend. I nearly experienced this one. After a long day of general dumbfuckery, I wasn't in the mood to deal with anything related to writing for a while. To make a long story short, I exploded at a friend about her character and yadda yadda. I since apologized, but the whole thing could have been avoided if I wasn't a moron and didn't write this story this way to begin with.
If you really have a friend that is a ready made character, it would be easy to incorporate their traits into a story instead of transplanting their entire being. This is a lesson I wish I had learned before I got so invested in this particular story. For the revamp and hopefully for people reading and wondering whether they could put a friend in a story and get away with it. 
  1. Choose a few traits and contrast them with traits different than the person you are using for inspiration. For example, I have a friend who is a real bad ass. She was the Bad Ass type in our little anime club and she's awesome. I took the trope and turned it on its head a little bit. She was a Bad Ass in a past life, but now has responsibilities. She can't be around the people she loves because of a curse that was put on her. She can't be a completely bad ass because if she gets killed the people who are tied to her will also be kill. Bad Ass friend doesn't have this problem and is pretty responsible when shit needs to get done. They are similar to each other, but not to the point that the person could say that it is her. Maybe she could if the story were to be published traditionally, but who knows what editors and agents would have to say about her character.
  2. Don't tell the people that you are writing a story about that you are writing a story about them. Another fatal mistake I made. I let my friends help create the characters that are in the story. Sure it was fun for high school, but when we all graduate high school and I began posting this story online, people outside of my group of friends liked it and I felt it could go somewhere. Now not only did I have to please the masses, but I had to keep my friend's characters authentic as well. It was stifling and it didn't add for a lot of freedom.
  3. Let them grow into complex characters. If you haven't told your friends that you are writing about them, then this is easy. If you did, that's okay. Just tell them that you scrapped the story for something better, even if you didn't. I say the more complex your plot is, the more complex the characters become. For example, the main male protagonist is a prime example. He started off, embarrassingly enough, based off my ex-boyfriend. However, as number 1 in the first list happened, and the story got revamped to something better. I wrote him not thinking that he'd ever go beyond his archetype, but he did and I happy about it. Other characters started to follow suit and eventually, when I get back to this, they'll be fully rounded characters
  4. Give them a backstory that is completely different than the person you are basing your character off of. You'll find that characters will be completely different than your friend, even if they share the same traits. People with the same personality traits can be affected by their environment in different ways. If they have the same traits, different situations and extraordinary circumstances can push people to their limits. Our job as writers is to explore what happens when these people are pushed to the extreme. 
  5. Make your characters unpredictable. Everyone has that one friend where you say something and you know exactly what they are going to say, how they are going to say it, and what they'll be doing when they say it. I used to have a friend (she used to be in the story, oddly enough) who I could predict everything she was going to say, imagine actually having a conversation, then have that conversation, and was never surprised by what she would say. Characters can't be like that, even if real life people are. Sometimes real life will surprise you, people and characters can catch you off guard with their actions and behaviors. With characters, this is a good thing(Whether their actions are negative or positive)-- it can lead your story to a place you never expected it to go. With real life, it  might have

I hope enjoyed this hybrid essay. It's one part writing advice, one part commentary on the nature of friendships, and one part non-fictional essay. I enjoyed writing this, it was fun. I want to hear your thoughts on the topic. Have you ever inserted one of your friends into a story with or without them knowing about it? How did it turn out? Leave your thoughts in the comments.


Vegetarian Cannibal said... anime friends and I did comics together and even tried blogging together, lol. I'm not friends with any of my high school buddies anymore.

I've never written a story about my friends. Don't plan to, either. Real life is so much different from fiction. Real life doesn't follow formulas...real life doesn't have a "dramatic arc," plot points, foreshadowing, or the epic "black moment" the h/H overcomes in the climax. Fiction does.

:D Which is why I can't write about real life. It would be far too boring!

Najela said...

Same here. We used to write fanfics together, but we're mostly not friends anymore either. I'm only friends with 2.5 people from my little anime group.

I was a moron in doing that. I'm not sure why I even wanted to write a novel based on my friends.

I could never write a memoir or non-fiction.

I agree. I can't write real life either, it's strange...

Beverly said...

Hey - just hoppin' by! I started the hop on Friday, but had to leave, just now getting back to it. Hope you had a great weekend! Stop by The Wormhole and say hi!

Emma said...

Nice post! I can definitely see where you'd feel stifled with character development.

Najela said...

@Beverly: I stopped by your blog. It's really cute. I hope to read more of it.

@Emma: Yeah, that's probably why it's not finished yet (not true,I'm just lazy, busy, and don't know where the story is going to end). I think I can finally see the characters as characters and not the people that inspired them.


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