“Don’t annoy the writer. They may put you in a book and kill you.”
When I was a teenager, I wrote a play for my high school’s Drama Department to perform entitled Acting White. The story revolved around a black student at a mostly all-white school who becomes popular, much to the ire of his fellow black classmates. The play’s title comes from a line of dialogue in which the main character is accused of “trying to be something he wasn’t.”
I created the play’s characters based on who was in the Drama program at the time, and, well, there were only five black students in the program. After reading the play, one of the black students asked me if Acting White was a veiled attack on him, a subtle revenge for some kind of transgression he’d committed against me. I assured him that it wasn’t—Acting White was based on my experiences, the fact that I had been called “Oreo” more times than I cared to recall, that I felt I wasn’t “black enough.”
I was actually kinda shocked this kid thought I was trying to get at him in any kind of way (he was, in fact, one of my best friends in high school), but his fears of being immortalized as a “sellout” opened my eyes to the realization that if I wanted to hurt someone, if I wanted to get revenge, I could do so within my stories.
I must confess, I fire shots at more than a few people in my upcoming novel. Some people are well-known; others, only known to a few. My novel isn’t a roman à clef, so it won’t necessarily be easy to point out who I may be parodying. And getting some kind of revenge on folks who have annoyed or wronged me was not my reason for writing the novel. I simply had a story that I wanted to tell … but if I saw a place where I could organically take digs at someone, well, shit, I did.
I fully expect people to ask me if I’d written about them, and I expect others to simply cut me off like Truman Capote‘s family and friends did upon reading the few published chapters from his unfinished novel Answered Prayers. (After all, they say a hit dog will holler.) Yes, some folks will be fucking furious when they see themselves in my fiction.
And it will be in that moment that they will learn the lesson from the top of the page.
But I believe you’re much smarter than they, Dear Readers. So heed the warning now before it is too late. You don’t want to piss off any writers you know lest you be immortalized for all eternity as some special breed of jerk.