A first-time novelist writes in to Ask Amy with this problem: a friend does not like the way the novelist portrayed a character who is loosely based on her. The friend has responded with a scathing, personal online review, saying the novelist needs counseling. The novelist whines to Amy:
How can I convey to her that while this fictional character shares many of her attributes, it is not her?
The novelist published her book using a pseudonym because she was afraid of negative feedback. Amy says:
Negative feedback is one of many risks you take as a writer and until you can truly claim ownership of your work (no matter what name you use), you will be on the run — creatively, anyway.
Amy, that wise woman, is right, as usual. This is a war a writer cannot win, so it’s not even worth trying. At an extreme, here is how the conversation will go:
Ex-friend: “That awful character in your novel — it’s based on me. Admit it.”
Befuddled writer: “How can the character be based on you? It’s not even human! It’s a telepathic slug from the planet Remulon!”
Ex-friend: “Sure, you changed a couple of the details. But everyone can tell it’s me.”
Ultimately, of course, the writer has to choose which matters more: his art or his personal relationships. And that brings us to this great quote from William Faulkner:
The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much that he can’t get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies.