Two weeks ago, I went on a cruise. My husband and I traveled with another couple with whom we are good friends to celebrate a milestone year. We “cruised” into forty and had a fabulous time.
While getting a cocktail (yes, one of many) at one of the bars before dinner, my husband struck up a conversation with another couple. He’s a people person. He can talk to anyone and be instant friends with them. Not surprisingly, the couple took a liking to him and started telling him the story of how they met. It was a wonderful story – perfect book material – and they gave their hearty consent when I asked if I could use it in one of my novels.
I’ve spoken before about the importance of using your observations as inspiration, but what I haven’t discussed are the problems that can arise as a result.
As writers, we love a good story, and if that story falls into our lap, all the better. But what if that story belongs to someone else? Do we have to ask permission?
In my mind, the answer is yes. There is a big difference between watching a scene unfold from a distance and describing the scene in some book years down the road when you don’t know names, background information, or specifics. However, if you get a specific story from a person, I feel we have a moral obligation as writers to ask if we can fictionalize their story.
Can you imagine finding “your” story in someone’s novel without the writer asking if they could share it with the world? Your story isn’t copyrighted, but it still belongs to you, and the result could be a feeling of violation instead of excitement.
If someone shares their story and you fall in love with it, just ask. The worst they can say is no. More likely, they’ll look forward to reading about themselves years down the road, and it’ll be a win-win for both of you.
Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here and her website here.