Thoughts About Drawing Inspiration From Real Lives

If you’re someone who’s in tune with widely read pieces on the Internet, then by now, you’re probably aware of the lengthy New York Times article that was published earlier this week called “Who Is the Bad Art Friend?” To put it short, it goes into great detail about the legal dispute between a kidney donor and a writer whose short story may or may not have been inspired by the former’s experience.

Please go read it for yourself if you’re so compelled. While I will not be providing my analysis of this dispute nor will I be taking sides, I bring it up because it does touch on the intriguing topic of the ethics – and legality, even – of drawing inspiration from lives other than your own. As the article indicates, writers draw inspiration from real life all the time. However, to what extent can one go that could lead to crossing a possibly existing line? Who’s to say that you are in the position to tell a story that you have been exposed to real life, but is not your experience? Can an argument be made about who has the right to tell a specific story?

Already, I see conversations of a similar nature unfold all the time, in the ongoing trek for more diverse storytelling across platforms and mediums. But when it comes down to very specific life experiences, that becomes a conversation in its own right. Aside from this years-long dispute, the most recent controversy of this kind that has been on my radar is regarding how the film, “Blue Bayou,” is being accused of exploiting the trauma of an actual Korean adoptee.

For legality’s sake, there’s a reason why on one of the first few pages of a novel, you’ll typically see a message saying that it’s a work of fiction, and that any resemblance of the characters or events to those of real life are coincidental. To not see that assurance every time one picks up a novel, who knows how many more cases like these would be in existence. But still though, for a writer to go their entire career and not be inspired by something from the real world is just impossible.

Have I pulled inspiration from real life? Yes, and I’ve talked about it on here before. However, in the writing I do and how it has evolved overtime, I’ve noticed how it’s rare for me to pull inspiration from my own life, and rarer from people I know. However, if and when I do pull inspiration from someone I do know and that inspiration plays a central role in how said story unfolds, I personally would want to be transparent with that person, in an effort to acknowledge and recognize the muse.

Drawing inspiration from real lives is a tricky tight rope to walk as far as ethics go, especially when the world at large is a palate for getting the creative juices going. But in situations such as the ones named here, it does question how far one can or should go when the writer is not far from the source they’re pulling from.

If you are able to, I hope you can go support me in all that I do by leaving a tip over on Ko-fi. I do a lot of writing that I get paid very little for or not at all, and so this is a way of showing your support other than just reading my content. Donations of varying quantities and frequencies are greatly appreciated.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: