On Monday Jessica over at BookEnds answered a question about using real people (friends and family) in a novel. Her response and the general consensus in the comments were Don’t Do It.
Even if people have given their consent to the author they may not like the portrayal of themselves. Friendships will be lost, lawsuits will happen. I have heard that no matter where your characters come from someone will think you put them into your book and be offended. Why invite the trouble?
I once wrote a novel I based on a thought by Pirandello. I made up the characters and the family based on the thoughts and feelings prompted by that quote. I told The Engineer about the plot and he said if I was going to write about my family I shouldn’t be so obvious about it. What? I didn’t think it had any connection to my family. The sad thing was I had already let my mom read an early draft. I don’t know if she saw the same thing The Engineer did (if so sorry mom), I’ve always been too scared to ask. Needless to say I never finished the novel.
A novel is part writer’s thoughts and part reader’s perception. In what quantities I’m not entirely sure. (If we knew do you think we could write the perfect novel?) You can never know if what you put down about someone even thinking it a compliment will be taken the same way. So be safe. I think it was Voltaire that said something like (I know this isn’t accurate but I can’t look it up as there’s a baby asleep in that room. If anyone wants I’ll look it up later) he took a bit of what he saw in others, some of himself and mixed it up like a stew with a healthy dose of imagination.
Where do your characters come from? Or do they come to you fully formed?