Is this wrong?

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stephendag
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Is this wrong?

Post by stephendag » December 29th, 2010, 3:58 am

Hi

In September, an idea for a novel fell on my lap that I couldn't resist. In short, a coworker at the time faced a string of setbacks, including the death of his grandmother, the death of a close friend, the dissolution of his relationship, and the discovery of a family secret about his uncle, a semi-famous artist who died of AIDS. He returned to work for one day, told me he wanted me to write the story, had a meltdown, and quit.

Using this as fodder, I wrote the novel during NaNoWriMo, using his name, his partner's name, and his uncle's name. I put the main charcter through the wringer, modifying the details of what he told me to a fair extent. In the end, I give him redemption, though I don't know what became of him.

I know I should probably change the names (though I love his uncle's name), but beyond that, is there legally wrong with me doing this? How about morally wrong?

Thanks for your help!

Stephen

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Holly
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Re: Is this wrong?

Post by Holly » December 29th, 2010, 8:11 am

He asked you to write the story. What did he mean? Write it for him, or just write it? If you have doubt, can you contact him?

If I didn't make a partnership, I would change the names and anything else that could identify real people, plus would probably fictionalize some of it.

The main point for me: I wouldn't want to hurt people.

Once upon a time I volunteered for Mother Teresa's order for four years. As I got to know the sisters, they told me incredible stories about their lives and Mother Teresa. Some of the stories were hilarious. I wrote them all down, intending to try to publish them one day -- and then threw everything away. I'd been a guest in their house, wrote about them without their knowledge, and wouldn't want someone doing that to me. So it depends on the situation.

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Watcher55
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Re: Is this wrong?

Post by Watcher55 » December 29th, 2010, 8:52 am

Based on your account, it seems like a good idea to take the guy's state of mind into account. He was obviously distraught when he asked you to write the story. I would advise that you definitely have a sit-down with the guy before making any decision. If that's not possible, at the very least change details and fictionalize.

I don't know about the legality of the situation but IMO compassion trumps law in this case.

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Re: Is this wrong?

Post by Sommer Leigh » December 29th, 2010, 9:24 am

I would fictionalize it and definitely change the names. You'd need to get a lot of permissions otherwise and even if you managed to get them, the IDEA of having someone write about your life may be a lot more appealing than the actuality of it. This person's story might belong to them, but if it were ever published anyone who knows that person is also dragged into the story - other family, friends, and there is a lot of emotional baggage that comes with it. I think for everyone's sake it should be fictionalized.
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polymath
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Re: Is this wrong?

Post by polymath » December 29th, 2010, 10:21 am

Speaking bluntly, I see traumatic situations. Not to be insensitive, I don't see a story in the given context. But that's not wrong, per se. I see a source for inspiration. Questions I'd ask of the drafted novel, what's the theme? A young man experiences a whole world of hurt. What's the underlying meaning of the hurt? What's the message?

In my opinion, a rewrite is in order to change the circumstances, names, events, and places for best dramatic effect. Otherwise I see an And Plot, where something happens, and something else happens, and something else happens, and something else happens to no meaningful end.

What I see is a personal journey of rediscovery brought on by traumatic events leading to a new emotional equilibrium. The underlying meaning I see is recovery from an existential crisis, self-identity crisis, caused by confronting mortality. From one approach, the plot points could be developing coping mechanisms from a crushing self-enlightenment about the way the world really works. Another approach might be self-aware questioning and challenging the absolutes and authorities of imposed predetermination; in other words, exercising free will when handed a cosmic dump of karmic debt.

I suspect the narrative already has a germ of the above awaiting full realization. Upon realization, the circumstances, names, persons, places, and events might matter less, if at all, and the meaning of existence in a world of hurt will rise like cream for best dramatic effect. Trauma, the bread and butter daily living diet for the spirit and body that gives something to push and pull against in passionate clashes and compel change, growth, transformation; Joy, the lasting rewards for the heart and mind that make the traumas endurable.
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steve
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Re: Is this wrong?

Post by steve » December 29th, 2010, 10:28 am

What was the uncle's secret? Is he a wizard? A vampire?

Nothing wrong with your approach, but the events you describe sound boring.

Make the uncle a vampire.

Good luck!
Read one of the best stories by Borges.

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Re: Is this wrong?

Post by bcomet » December 29th, 2010, 2:56 pm

steve wrote:Make the uncle a vampire.
Ohh I loved that!

~~

Seriously, you heard this story in a third-person account and from someone in crisis.

Definitely change the names. Not for legal reasons (although they apply), but so as to
DO NO HARM.

It's a higher way, IMHO.

And it sounds like they are doing no harm either, (at least not anymore if they did) for that matter. So why should their names, facts, unauthorized sad tales be anyone else's to tell?

~~

I have a WiP that is based on the emotional climate and challenges of a dear friend. But: It.Is.Not.Her. Story. : It's completely fiction with its own circumstances and completely made-up character(s). My friend relates to the work, and informs it, but is not a part of it. Nor would this person want to be and has told me so. But my friend also deeply appreciates that a form of her story is being written in a compassionate and healing manner.

When you read about a sad/lost/hurt person, that person can be any of us in the wrong circumstances. It's the journey through and out that makes the trip through the alligator pit/desert/war/dysfunctional world/betrayal/etc. more interesting and the fictional character you build can be much more inspiring than the one who "just lived though it."

I recently read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Now there is a compelling character who has to muster the strength and character to see himself through extreme circumstances. The stakes are higher than reality: He must Save The World. And he is a little boy. It's very hard not to care deeply for this fictional character and he serves as a perfect emotional vehicle for the plot.

~~

Hope this is helpful. Congrats on finishing a first draft on NaNo.

stephendag
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Re: Is this wrong?

Post by stephendag » December 29th, 2010, 3:33 pm

Thanks for all your comments and help.

You are right. Compassion is important, and I would hate to hurt this person, given all the hurt he went through. Yet I do give him redemption though the story. And I hope he finds it in his own life.

The structure of the novel is there. I can change a lot of it to fictionalize it more than I already have (which is some, but not enough), and still have the gist of what I am trying to accomplish.

And Steve, though the uncle is not a vampire, he does come back from the dead at one point in this draft. It's a bit magical, I know, but my character needs some magic at that point in his story.

This is the first time I've posted here, except for my introduction. You have all been so helpful and informative. It's nice to know this is a resource for me.

I am so excited to put your comments and advice into words!

Thanks again!
Stephen

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sierramcconnell
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Re: Is this wrong?

Post by sierramcconnell » December 29th, 2010, 6:51 pm

Wow, the uncle must have Verizon Wireless.

/inside joke that no one will get

[I was taking calls once, on the main floor, and I overheard a fellow rep say, "well, I'm sorry to hear you were deceased, sir, we'll be sure to get your account reactivated". It was back when I was only six months or so into the job. I'm five years in now and at a higher level, but I'll never forget hearing that. It made me go O_O.]
I'm on Tumblr!

The blog died...but so did I...and now I'm alive again! OMG.

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esmith1
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Re: Is this wrong?

Post by esmith1 » January 9th, 2011, 7:21 pm

I don't know where you are in the process of your novel now but like others have said, you should definitely change the characters names just to protect the individual that disclosed that information to you. Even though, he did ask you to write it but he may have changed his mind. And then, he could potentially sue you. Good Writing to You! Seems like a great story!

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maggie
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Re: Is this wrong?

Post by maggie » January 9th, 2011, 9:35 pm

First of all,
sierramcconnell wrote:I'm sorry to hear you were deceased, sir, we'll be sure to get your account reactivated"
hahaha. That's amazing.

But as to your dilemma, if you change the names and tweak the circumstances, I doubt there is any legal issue here, but morally...well, if it were me, I would tweak a lot. That being said, I think all good writers use a lot of their real lives and the real lives of those around them as fodder for novels. You would not be the first. I would just make sure to change things enough that these people could not be identified by those close to them. I really don't think there's anything wrong with using a story you heard as an idea for a novel--but using the actual names of the people (even if it is an awesome name) is crossing the line, I think. Just my opinion. :)

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