As writers we have the extraordinary power to take our experiences and turn them into fiction. But that power also allows us to take individuals and turn them into caricatures, angels or monsters. Use your powers wisely, oh author:
It isn’t as if a writer merely records life as it unfurls. Reality does not automatically transcribe as literature; real people are not shapely, compelling characters to be harvested. Charming facts and sharp observations rarely slide seamlessly into whatever narrative is at hand. To fictionalize material—any material, real or imaginary—is to subject it to the demands, the conventions, and rigors of the project at hand. A fictional narrative is constructed, shaped, and sized, its raw material muted, amplified, trimmed, and minced, recombined and recolored.
The writer Susan Taylor Chehak said that she was fictionalized once, “But by the time she got me to fit, I wasn’t me anymore.”
Have you ever succumbed to the temptation of injection someone into a story?
Not all are as cool-headed as Chehak. Some of the fictionalized share a wide streak of solipsism—for them, a few recognized facts can trigger a strong response. I have one friend who, years before I knew her, lived in Round Rock, Texas. She told me how, drunk in her youth, she’d once called some policemen “pin dicks” as they were driving her down to the station. I stole that line and gave it to a young man as he was being hauled to the police station in my first novel, Round Rock, which was named for a drunk farm near Piru, California, where round rocks occur naturally in the riverbed—it had nothing to do with Texas. My friend read two pages of this novel and phoned, furious. Not only had I named my novel after the place where she used to live, I’d put her words into my character’s mouth. “You stole my life!” she said.
There’s a lot more there, and I think it’s worth reading.
Read it all here: http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/07/28/youve-been-fictionalized/
And don’t forget this hilarious McSweeney’s article on the same idea.