M.J. Gardner’s story “The Book of Regrets” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 4 January 2019.
In writing “The Book of Regrets”, I used two of my friends as the main characters. I have always used real people in creating characters, but usually just bits and pieces of them. I will take one person’s habit of pursing their lips when they are thinking, another’s voice, someone else’s hair, facial expression, or fashion sense. Sometimes I will base minor characters on someone I know, but not that well. I had never used people I knew as themselves in a piece of writing.
This led to some problems that I hadn’t anticipated. First of all, there are things I didn’t know about them, or that I needed to be different to make the story work. I had to fill in the gaps, or even create them in order to fill them. I think of this as spackling.
Secondly, people are more complex than even the most nuanced fictional character. They do things that make sense—to them and to me—but would require too much backstory to explain to the reader. It’s not even a question of the number of words, but of focus. It was a short story, and I didn’t want too many digressions. I had to take these copies of my friends and sand them smooth.
And then there was the issue of their approval. There is a certain amount of stress involved in sending your writing out for approval, knowing that complete strangers and people you know will read it and judge you. There is more stress in sending someone a draft and saying, I used you in this, are you okay with it? (They were.) I was worried that I might offend them because no one ever sees themselves the same way someone else sees them, and the divergence in views can be jarring.
Would I do it again? Yes, if the right story came along that suited two people, as well as this one, did.
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