A few years ago, someone gave me a funny plaque for Christmas, which reads: Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel.
It was meant to be a joke but the truth is, as a novelist, everyone you encounter in your life is a potential character in one of your books. Meeting someone new can trigger an idea for a whole novel and hearing other people’s stories is a form of research. I sometimes feel as though my brain is a mental filing cabinet where everything is stored, just waiting to be plucked out and used in future books.
Every character in every one of my novels is based on someone (or more often, a combination of people) that I have encountered or known in the past. Some think they have recognised themselves and are either flattered or furious – that’s always a risk – but sometimes people will take umbrage at the most surprising things that have no connection to them whatsoever. One person apparently stopped reading my books because she was annoyed that I had suggested that teaching assistants didn’t need any qualifications. The truth is, I didn’t even remember having a character who was a teaching assistant, let alone associate it with her.
In total contrast, another was delighted to recognise herself, even though the character in question was a promiscuous druggie! She rightly saw that I had based the character’s core personality on her, rather than the things she did, and that she was a wonderful person who was redeemed in the end.
As a novelist, no experience, however painful, is ever wasted either, as it will inevitably provide material for future novels and give you believable plotlines. It is also incredibly cathartic being able to write about something bad that’s happened, but change the ending to suit you better! You can literally re-write your past.
It’s also a wonderful form of revenge. Anyone who’s ever crossed you will find themselves cast as a villain, with not only their worst personality traits being writ large, but also the physical features that you know they are sensitive about being highlighted. So you can describe a male who you know is bothered by losing his hair as a having a receding hairline, or put in constant references to the weight of someone you know is touchy about the subject. Even if they never read it, you’ll know it’s there and you’ll have fun writing it.
And writing for revenge is so gratifying. Instead of wallowing in pointless self-pity over the friend who betrayed you, or the boss who shafted you, you can see that she gets her comeuppance in the most satisfying and gruesome way, while he is booted out of the company ignominiously and loses everything. It’s a surprisingly effective form of therapy!
Of course, success is the best form of revenge, so creating a best-seller with the story of how someone did you wrong is the ultimate payback. So, yes, be careful, or you’ll end up in my novel!