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Based on a True Story

With today being Labor Day, a lot of people are probably visiting family.  So this is as good a time as any for me to prattle on about offending the people closest to me.

I'm not so vain that I think anybody would really ask me any questions about the creative process, but one of the questions I see posed to other creative types is, "Where do you get your ideas?"  I'm going to pretend like I have a worthwhile answer to that.

In my experience, every premise usually starts with some minor real life event that can then be exaggerated, twisted, or otherwise reshaped into a terrific story.  In this way, an ordinary visit to a laundromat turns into a daydreaming session while you stare at a dryer, which then turns into a science-fiction story about how the Earth's rotation is suddenly doomed to spin out of control.  (That one's not something I'm writing, btw.  Just an example.  Feel free to steal it.)

Many times the best premises are ones that I've lived through in some capacity.  It's easier to write a story when I've had a strong emotional connection to the subject.  So anytime something remotely funny or interesting happens, I store it in the ol' inspiration bank. Then I'll wait for a few months and revisit my notes (if any) - if it's still funny or interesting, I'll try to turn it into a story.

(Incidentally, I wonder if this is why Facebook has so many shitty updates?  "I bought a mango today!  I guess you had to be there to see why it was funny."  I'm sure I'm not some genius who has discovered that true life stories are interesting, but maybe the main difference is that I don't just sneeze all this garbage out there every single time it happens.)

My family is a good source of inspiration for my stories.  More specifically, my in-laws. This leads to a problem I've been having lately as I plot out a couple of novels:  I don't know how much true life stuff I should leave in a story.

I have good relationships with my in-laws.  There's a lot of love and only the average amount of bitterness.  (Maybe a little less.)  But if I write all these stories exactly as I have them plotted out now, you'd probably think we do nothing but fight.  Or you might think I have low opinions of them.  Or you might think Stephanie and I are planning a divorce.

There are at least two solid premises for comedy-of-error novels that are based largely on real life incidents.  I cannot combine them into a single book.  But at their core, they're both about the protagonist suffering through things his/her in-laws have done.  Should I choose one and abandon the other?  Do I just switch the gender of the protagonist so it's not "me" anymore?  Do I have to instead search for surrogate events that are less funny, but similar enough?

I have similar frustrations and nervousness when I think about the jobs I've worked.  My bosses (former and current) are a gold mine of comedy, but surely they won't appreciate it if they become villains - or at best, incompetent stooges - in my stories.  Not even if I change their name and occupation.

Ultimately, I think the risk of offending people is worth it if the resultant story is good.  There's a lot I'm willing to accept if I can write something worth reading.  But this inevitably leads to the biggest irony of all: When you add fiction to a real-life event, the truth often becomes more outrageous and harder to believe.  Sometimes the only solution is to cut it out - which means that you've erased the entire reason why you started working on the book in the first place.

So... apologies in advance to my in-laws.  Y'all are good people.  But this is just too funny.  Sorry, guys.

Anyway, that's enough about me today.  How about you?  Has your family done anything worth embarrassing them for today?  No?  Are you at least having a good time cooking up all the traditional Labor Day favorites?  Roast Labor Duck with Freedom Fries?  Well, I won't keep ya.  I know you got a holiday to go take advantage of.  Thanks for stopping by.