The Importance of Disclosure

Posted: May 26, 2013 in Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

There are only so many names in the world. We rarely think about it, but there are only so many names in the world. And as writers, we generally use a lot of these names. Some people will use certain names more than once (Stephen King seems to have a fondness for characters named Jack, and uses a variety of last names so that it doesn’t seem like he’s using the same character every time). There’s nothing wrong with that, just as there’s nothing wrong with not using certain names (I think the names “Jack” or “John” are too commonly used, so I rarely use them, and there’s a certain girl’s name that I’m saving because if I ever have a daughter I want her to have it).

However, as it occasionally happens, there are certain names that our friends share, or that random people we meet on the street have. You could write a novel about a guy named Jason Colbert and then some guy will come up to you and say his name is Jason Colbert. This is the reason why the page in the novel that has the copyright info on it says “All names, places and groups are fictional and any resemblance to real people are coincidential” or something like that.

And as I know from personal experience, it’s important to disclose that. Whenever I decide to name a character a certain name and I have a friend who has a similar name, I make sure to let them know the character is not based on them. Here’s why:

1. You might inflate someone’s head. A few posts back I wrote about some of my early attempts at writing (you can read that post here). One of those attempts, a vampire novel called Mahiro, starred a vampire/vampire hunter named Daniel Axton. And one day I let slip to a friend of mine this character’s name. This friend’s name was Danny L. (I dare not disclose last names for the sake of privacy)

My friend thought that this meant I’d name the character after him, and the idea was only furthered when I mentioned the character also had brown hair. From then on, whenever the topic came up, he insisted that the character was named after him even though that this was far from the truth and that they had different last names. Good thing the vampire craze reached its peak midway through the second draft, or I may have tried to publish the novel and further inflate my friend’s ego.

2. It could get awkward. I’ve mentioned before that the female protagonist of my novel Snake is named Allison. Well, I have two friends named Allison. And although the Allison of my creation is very different from the Allisons I’m friends with, I made sure to let them know there was no resemblance between them. After all, if they read the novel and see some of the things my character gets into, it could lead to awkward conversations and lead to problems in my relationships to them if they thought the character was based on either of them. I mean, there’s a sex scene in that novel. Guess who’s in it. You can see why I would want to tell them there’s no resemblance or relationship between the fictional Allison and the real ones.

3. Angry lectures on “my character”. You ever get people asking you to put them in your novel? I used to, but I stopped doing that a long time ago. Why? I took some liberties with the characters, and my friends were upset about those liberties. After reading pieces of the manuscript they would tell me they didn’t think a character based on them would act that way or would say such a thing or “why is my character a ginger?” or “why did you kill my character off?” Even if I don’t base characters on my friends anymore, I make sure to tell anyone with a similar sounding name there’s no connection just to avoid these little lectures.

4. Someone may try to capitalize on the name. I don’t think anyone I know are particularly greedy or untrustworthy. I generally keep good company. However if someone came to me for money as payment for using “their name” in the novel, I’d tell them there was no relationship. Heck, during the writing phases I’d let them know this. It’s not that I don’t trust them, it’s just that if the novel does well, the scent of money may bring about something dark and usually kept locked away. It’s just better to nip that in the bud than let it blossom.

So that’s why I disclose to people if there is or isn’t a connection to a character in a story. It’s just safer that way and stops any weird situations from rising up. And it’s pretty handy too.

Though someday I may create a character after someone whom I really don’t like just to spite or satire them. But only if they really annoy me (which means my sisters better watch out if they know what’s good for them).

Do you disclose to friends/family whether or not there’s a connection between them and a character you created? What happens when you do?

  1. Abba says:

    LOL on your sisters having to be careful. What about your Dad?

  2. livelytwist says:

    I’ve not given it much thought. I write articles and short stories. I’m usually the main character (it’s easier to make a caricature of myself so readers can identify, due to the kind of articles I write). When I have other characters, I always use fictitious names that bear no resemblance to the person(s) on which the character(s) is/are based. Maybe the day will come when I need to explain?

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