Is Fiction Fact? Or Fact Fiction?

Years ago, I was delighted to be hired to write an episode for “Murder, She Wrote.” The producers gave me the venue–a cooking show–but it was up to me to come up with the characters and story.

At that time in my life, I met with neighbors and friends every Thursday night  for dinner at one of our homes, the host home responsible for cooking  dinner that week. My friends, consisting of three FBI agents, a doctor, a computer geek and his clothing designer wife were all quirky and funny with their share of emotional ups and downs. Since every Thursday night became a “cooking show” of our own, I decided to make them the characters in my story, using their lives and relationships to give color to the “Murder, She Wrote” episode.

And, I told them I was doing it!

My friends were flattered and amused so on the night my episode aired I invited them to my house for dinner and to watch the show. I braced myself for their anger and horror as they saw their emotional dynamics played out on the small screen. (In some cases, I even kept their names.)

Instead, they laughed uproariously throughout the show, thinking I had made up everything. Except for one story point, which they insisted was about me, and which was, actually, the one thing I had made up!

My neighbor Jeannine’s only comment was, “I don’t mind that you made me the murderer, but did I have to be a serial killer?!” (The character killed two people in the show, and, okay, I did make up the fact that real Jeannine, to my knowledge, has  killed anyone. )

My point is that if you hesitate about stealing the lives of friends and family to create your story because you think they’ll stop talking to you, or even sue you, don’t. In my experience, friends and family never see themselves in the characters I’ve based them on.

And because we get our best material from the people we know (and sometimes love, sometimes hate) why not use them to flesh out your characters?

No one but you will ever know.

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