First off, writing: yes, I did. Almost seven hundred words before I reached a point where I knew the scene would get hot and heavy and I didn’t want to get into that section and then run out of creative steam. So that scene gets finished today, along with the chapter, and then I can move onto the next chapter, which is going to be magic heavy. Yeah, baby: it’s gonna be nice.
But the real reason I’m here: the writer is annoyed. Well, not really, but it sounds like a great lead-in. Kinda.
There is a meme about writing that has made its way around the world, and has become so prevalent that it’s now found on mugs, tee shirts, and pillows. It goes as follows: “Do not annoy the writer. She/He/They may put you in their novel and kill you.” Because we’re like that: volatile and creative at the same time. Maybe this is why we do things like figure out how to topple one hundred and fifty story buildings full of people in 1991, because we need to do that for a scene. Or maybe that was just me, because I totally did that. (My research came from examining how various office buildings I worked at in Chicago were put together and extrapolating what I knew about skyscraper construction. The downside was I never finished the story with that particular scene of destruction. Pity.)
Now, basing characters in stories on real people is nothing new–writers have done this for centuries. The comic book character Tintin was based upon fifteen year old Palle Huld who went around the world in forty-four days to win a contest. Norman Bates was based upon Ed Gein, and Sherlock Holmes was based upon Dr. Joseph Bell. Dirty Harry Callahan and, to a lesser extent, Frank Bullitt, were based upon Det. Dave Toschi, who later had his life turned into a few movies concerning his most famous case, the Zodiac Killer–which, it should be pointed out, was the basis for the movie Dirty Harry. And a certain English chemistry teacher, John Nettleship, ended up better known as greasy haired potions master Severus Snape.
Harlan Ellison wrote often about how, as a kid, he’d been bullied badly by a certain individual at school whose name escapes me at the moment because all my Ellison books are six hundred miles away. So when he became a writer he kept putting this guy in his stories, using his real name, and said bully always came to a bad end–a really bad end. If I remember correctly, Ellison was finally contacted by this guy and asked if he’d stop doing that, because it was getting embarrassing to hear from friends that the Jewish kid he used to beat up every day for lunch money had just written another story where the character named after him had his spine ripped out in a convenience story by a fae he’d pissed off. If you know Harlan, then you know his response was probably . . . pleasant. After all, we’re talking about a guy who received a B in a writing class at Ohio University, along with a note from the professor telling him he had no hope whatsoever of ever becoming a published author–and after every story sale Harlan made, he’d send said story, along with a copy of the note, to the professor in question. I’m sure there was another note included as well, but I doubt very much that it said “Nener, Nener, Nener.”
But as far as characters getting put into a story because they annoyed the writer? I know there was a novel–and I’m blanking on the name–where the bad guy in the story, who happened to be a murderous pedophile, was based in whole on a critic who’d panned the author’s last work. I also know of one instance in a movie where characters were based off of individuals who’d pissed the creators off: the 1998 Godzilla movie by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. The mayor of New York City and his closest aide were based upon movie critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, who had been, shall we say, less than kind in their reviews of Emmerich and Devlin’s last movie, Independence Day. There wasn’t even an attempt to hid who the characters were: they physically looked like Ebert and Siskel, were named Mayor Ebert and Gene, and at the end of the movie, to show his displeasure at all the mayor’s actions, Gene gives him a “thumbs down”, something that Siskel and Ebert were famous for doing on their review show.
Being a writer I’d do the same, right?
No, probably not.
When you create characters, you are giving them life. If you base those characters off of people you know, then you are, in a way, giving your friends a life beyond their own. And if your work becomes wildly popular, then you’ve granted your characters–and by extension, anyone they were based upon–a form of immortality. We know that Huckleberry Finn was based upon a close childhood friend of Mark Twain, and one hundred years after Professor Nettleship has left this mortal coil, people will remember who Professor Snape was based upon.
So here I am sitting in Panera, and if some annoying asshole should approach me and start getting in my face with stuff like, “Whatcha doin’? You writin’ a book? A blog? You blog? Is it about sex?”, I’m going to give him or her–probably a him, sorry to stereotype–the Michonne Side Eye, turn up the music on my computer, and finish what I’m doing. I’ve been fortunate not to have that happen, probably because I scare people sitting here behind my gigantic laptop, but that’s a good thing, right?
Would I want to put this person in my story just to kill him or her off? Nah. First off, I know who my characters are, and right now I can tell you who dies before the end of my current work in progress. Hint: it isn’t one of the main characters, but people do bite the big one. And more than a few people in the story are based, in part, on real people I know. People I know. People I even love.
It’s my hope that this will be their form of immortality.
And annoying buttheads will never share the stage with them, even as cannon fodder. The best thing to do with them is forget they were ever speaking to you five minutes after they leave you.
There’s always this to remember, too:
Ain’t it the truth.