When you’re mining real life stories for inspiration, where is the line?
How many people here follow me on twitter? It’s not necessary, but if you do you might remember this story. Back in May I was in Denver and, while I was waiting for a bus, there was this couple having a knock down, drag out fight behind the flimsy privacy of a wire fence. I am admittedly nosy (we like to call it people watching in the trade), but basically even if I had been the Saint of Minding My Own Beeswax I couldn’t have missed this.
She’d lojacked his car and tracked him to an assignation with his mistress. ONLY, ONLY it turned out she was the mistress, and he’d been meeting with his estranged wife. There was a third player referred to only as ‘Kinky Boots’ who would have been anyone but had a sexah assignation with him Seattle. He wanted to get back with his wife, his daughter was freezing him out, someone even had cancer…but that’s when the bus arrived.
Frankly, at some point I could well steal something from this whole event that will make it into a book. It might be them, it might be the idea of fascinated onlookers, it could be Kinky Boots – it’s almost definitely going to be Kinky Boots. However, by the time I do it the basic scenario is going to be altered enough that the original players probably aren’t going to recognise their own experience.
Most writers do this. Even the most fantastically baroque fantasy is built on the foundations of the author’s reality and experience. The way people move when they are angry or hurt. The way word choices stumble as emotions rise. How someone walks in one of those terrifying halo casts, how they get through doors. It goes into a little book – some people keep it in their head, I have stacks and stacks of old, scribbled in notebooks (they might as well be in code, with my writing) – and at some point, in some book, you can mine that memory for realism.
There’s got to be a line though. A point where you go, ‘oh, this is not my stuff’. Sometimes it is obvious. Anything confided in you is off the table, that’s just common decency. Friends are mostly off the table, particularly if they are writers because that feels like a weird precognitive plagiarism, at least if you want to remain friends with them. Family is on a case by case basis. I know, it sounds horrible. That’s because you don’t know my family. My aunt has just moved house, and it’s like something out of The Exorcist. She is all ‘oh, all new houses feel odd at first till you get to know them’ and all the toilets are filled with writhing masses of black worms. I just cannot pass that up out of hand.
Or if it would get you in trouble. I know some stuff like that.
Other times it’s harder to tell what side of the line you’re on. If you follow me, again, you might have noticed me talking about issues there have been in my street recently. The usual stuff, like parking wars and planning permission, and some less usual stuff, like vandalism and some arson.
I don’t feel that there’s any implicit contract to remain discreet here, the way there is with family and friends. On the other hand, I feel a little bit bad at the idea of mining my neighbours’ misfortune for my benefit. I’m not sure it’s some sort of moral acknowledgement of guilt, mind you. I think it might just be the hold-over of my granny’s assurance that I shouldn’t wish ill on people, because I’d feel terrible if it actually happened. Not that I’d be actively wishing ill on my neighbours, but not that many nice things happen in my books so…
Whether I use it not, though, it’s still gone down in my book. It’s been too interesting around here to just ignore. So keep buying my books, and eventually you’ll maybe get the scoop!
You can find TA Moore at www.nevertobetold.co.uk … you can find out more about my latest book too. Dog Days did launch last month!