Casting Real People In Your Fiction

real people

One of my favourite things about working in the Fiction team is reading about engaging characters — the kind who really jump off the page at me.

Sometimes they are vibrantly described. Other times, a picture of the character builds in my mind thanks to the things they say and do.

Though they are fictional, I can relate to the characters through the course of the plot. I’m often willing them to achieve their goals by the end of the story.

But what about real people in “Friend” stories and serials? How should the writer portray them?

Our interactive timeline features many famous events, including the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.

The location and discovery would make a great story in the magazine.

But what about the tomb’s discoverers, Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon? Could they feature in one of our stories?

The Real Deal

Readers will often have a picture of a real person in their minds, regardless of the fictional setting. Mannerisms and clothes can often spring to mind, too — especially if the famous person has appeared in footage over the years.

Casting real people in “Friend” fiction risks defamation, however. Quite simply, we don’t take that risk. Real people can feature in passing, as long as they aren’t a main character or intrinsic to the story. Two characters can fall in love at an Elvis Presley concert, for example.

But what about people who are no longer alive? The same thing applies, I’m afraid, as there would still be risk of offence.

There’s also the issue of plausibility. The reader might well think that the actual person wouldn’t have said or done what was portrayed in a story.

We published a serial in the magazine not long ago about Mary Queen of Scots. In “The Gilded Gaol”, the storyline revolved around the Queen, but focused on other characters, rather than featuring her directly.

This was a much safer approach from our point of view, and the characters and their personalities were portrayed in such a way that they became as real as the queen they served.

You can find plenty of story inspiration on our interactive timeline. Fiction Ed Shirley’s Story Starters are also a great resource.

For more writing tips and tricks, click here.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.