Rachel is a sixteen-year-old home school student and award-winning author who resides in Virginia with her parents and two sisters. Her gift for writing became apparent at the age of eleven through a simple fiction writing assignment in school. She signed with Zondervan in 2010 for her first YA fiction novel, Interrupted, released in March 2012; her second novel, Chasing Jupiter, released in December 2012. You can visit her at her blog, www.rachelcoker.wordpress.com.
Hey, ya'll! So sorry I ditched you last month. Well, I didn't so much as ditch you as I did totally forget about you, if we're telling the truth here. As in, my brain apparently turns to putty five days before Christmas and the launch of my second book and I completely forget all prior commitments in my utter exhaustion/excitement. Sorry! Won't happen again!
My brain is back from vacation and ready to pop out some vital writing information.... SO, you may have heard by now that my new YA novel, Chasing Jupiter, is available now!!! Yipee!!! Happy dance!!! (IMAGINARY happy dance as I am so clumsy in real life that if I actually tried this I might fall down or break something.....)
In the whirlwind of interviews and guests blog posts I've been doing to promote my book, the question keeps getting thrown around, "Where did you get the inspiration for this story?" I actually thoroughly answered that question in a video blog you can watch here, but a lot of readers definitely seemed surprised to find out that I based so many of my characters on real people who I know in real life. Which raises the question.... How much of real life can you borrow for your stories and how much do you need to leave alone?
I'll explain... Let's say you know a woman who goes to your church who would be absolutely perfect as a comical character in your book. She's more than pleasantly plump, she wears bright orange lipstick, and she sings in an operatic voice loud enough to shatter windows three blocks down. And--get this--her name is Lakeesha. Two e's and everything. You're just dying to write her into a book. She would make everyone laugh and would brighten up so many scenes. And goodness gracious, think about what laughter just her name would induce. It's pure genius. Your readers will love it.
But hold on a minute. There's something you may have forgotten. Will Lakeesha love it? Don't kid yourself into thinking "Oh, she'll never find out" or "It'll give her a good laugh". Even if you change her name or hair color, there's still a pretty good chance that she'll find out you were writing about her. And guess what? Lakeesha probably won't find it very funny. In fact, she might be pretty hurt or angry. And then I can pretty much guarantee how you'll feel. Horrible.
It might sound like I'm being kind of dramatic, but I'm really not. And while I'm sure that all of you are smart enough not to write someone into a book without changing their name, hair color, or weight, there are things that we as authors miss sometimes. People who are known for certain expressions, sayings, or physical characteristics are pretty quick to recognize themselves in a character. And if you didn't have their permission to copy those traits into a character, they have every right to be mad at you. However, there is a level of grace that I think authors can abide in.
As writers, people naturally assume that we'll be copying from real life. And, in fact, I'll do this all the time. If I love someone's birthmark, gap-toothed smile, chewed-up nails, or squeaky way of saying "Yep!"--I might put that in a book. Or if someone shares with me a cute or sweet story from their own past, I might incorporate that into a scene or plot twist. I might even go as far as writing a book based on someone I met or heard about, as was the case with Chasing Jupiter!
But, every writer has to have limits. They can be a good thing, and can keep you from offending someone. So, before you copy something about a friend or family member into a book, keep these things in mind:
- Try to stay away from using the names of people you know in real life, unless they're for an insignificant character or you've already mentioned it that person. Nothing's weirder than reading a book where someone with your name turns out to be a total brat or, worse, dies--especially if you know the author. Awkward.
- It's okay to copy a character trait or quirk of someone you know, but if you do that then make sure everything else about that character is completely different from their real-life counterpart. Your character's mother might have the same heart-shaped mole as your Aunt Sallie, but their personalities have to be entirely different!
- If you hear a story from a friend or family member that you just have to turn into a story, then don't be afraid to talk to them about it. Sit them down and explain as humbly and sweetly as possible, "Look, I'm just so touched by the story you just told about how your grandfather carried around your grandmother's lock of hair in his coat pocket all across France during World War Two. I'd really love to write a story based on their romance and include that aspect of their relationship. I understand if you don't want your personal life to be turned into a novel, but would you ever consider talking to me more about that possibility?" If you're honest and undemanding, your friends and family will be more comfortable sharing their lives with you.
P.S. Please, please, please order a copy of my new book, "Chasing Jupiter"! Or, better yet, check out my blog for a giveaway of BOTH my books (signed, of course), ending tomorrow! And be sure to like me on Facebook, if you haven't yet!
Also, I would love to connect with you on Twitter! I'm doing a live Q&A chat on Twitter today (the 17th) from 2-3pm eastern time, and I'd love to see you there. You can follow me @RachelCoker3.