As someone married to a thriller writer, I have been relatively lucky to have my quirks and mannerisms appear mostly as aspects of the good guys. Mostly. That said, I am married to a writer and I am getting what I asked for. Stories of mine get YOINKed all the time — mostly little details or interesting tidbits… the stuff that feels like real life. In fairness, ideas and expressions of hers also appear in my poems. That said, I have this one piece of advice for you as someone who knows a writer: if you tell them a story WITHOUT saying, “Now, this isn’t for use in a novel” first, I don’t know that you have any moral avenue of objection. It’s what they do, and you knew that going in, and their experience of hearing the story without being told it’s not for use in their art is really just their experience of hearing something one day. We do it all the time, in all artistic genres. God knows, some science article comes up with a vaguely poetic image like “wolf moon” or some shit and two years later all the lit journals are filled with crappy poems about the wolf moon. Because what writers do is process reality and hand it back to us for context that we can use as decoration for our minds. Anything they hear or see is just another part of their day tucked away for future use. But I do think most writers will respect a “please don’t use this” request. Beyond that, everything said and done in and around them is fair game. So beware, is what I’m saying.
Contemporary entertainment is a hall of mirrors, an endless flow of simulacra: reality shows, biopics, documentaries, Instagram posts, Youtube vlogs. Podcasts and docuseries and movies process the same real-life events (Tonya Harding, the O.J. trial, Theranos), responding to one another, building on one another, until the metanarrative is part of the entertainment. I guess it is no surprise, then, that our fictionalized characters have starting launching protests about how we’ve used them. A woman named Alexis Nowicki recently wrote a Slate essay outing herself as the inspiration for the viral short story “Cat Person,” and Amanda Knox, who was falsely accused of murder by Italian authorities, wrote an Atlantic article about a movie that (very) loosely transposes her story. Tom McCarthy, the director of Stillwater, did acknowledge in a Vanity Fair interview that his movie was “directly inspired” by Knox’s case. I still can’t decide if this was all marketing — McCarthy trying to stir up the true-crime audience and situate his film amid the flow of Amanda Knox content — or naiveté, an artist assuming that people will understand that inspiration is about the spark of an idea, not the act of appropriation.