Dina Friedman's Monthly Writing Advice

Vol. 1 # 10, April 2002 - Real Characters in Fiction

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Dear Dina,

I want to write a novel based on my eccentric great aunt Grace, but if she recognizes herself, she'll leave me out of her will. And unless this book makes big time, I'll need the money. What should I do?

Poor Boy

Dear Poor Boy,

If you want to eventually be a rich boy, you'll need to make a clear leap between fact and fiction. Make Aunt Grace a man in a different town, several years younger if possible. Do whatever you can to change the story you want to tell. Rather than thinking about thinly disguising the character or the facts, ask yourself what the real lessons are that you want people to learn from Aunt G., and turn as much inside out as you possibly can. Of course, there's still a chance she might recognize the truth behind your fictional words, and you might still lose out on your inheritance, but who knows, your book might become a best seller, and at least she won't be able to sue you for libel.

Good luck,



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Dina Friedman, M.S.W., has worked with individuals and groups on issues for thirteen years. A published fiction writer, poet, playwright, and journalist and winner of several awards and honors, she coordinates academic writing workshops for Mount Holyoke College. She has taught rhetoric, English Comp, and creative writing at the University of Massachusetts, Holyoke Community College, and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

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