There was a rumour about someone I knew of, a few years ago. It was a rumour that made her look very cool, so when I actually met her, I asked her about it and she told me it wasn’t true. I was disappointed, particularly as it was a story of her getting the better of someone I despised. I’d prefer to believe it’s true, even though she denies it (OK, she might have denied it because the thing she allegedly did was probably illegal, though wholly justifiable).
I was thinking about this after becoming mildly embroiled in a Twitter spat relating to the TV series The Crown, or at least this article about it. There are always stories about well-known figures, which are widely believed but untrue, because they are so plausible. In some cases, they are circulated but not wholly believed – they are just entertaining speculation. (What do YOU think to that rumour about David Cameron and the piggywig, eh?) Most of the time, a rumour without proof of its authenticity is just a bit of fun, and whether you believe it, want to believe it or enjoy spreading it anyway, the truth is less important.
This doesn’t apply to serious, nasty rumours, of course. If a rumour centres on someone having done something so awful that prosecution is likely, it shouldn’t be spread unless you are aware of the facts of the matter (and even then, if prosecution is underway, it’s a bad idea to discuss it on social media as this can have an impact on any court case.)
Stories and films like The Crown are in a slightly odd category anyway. They are based on the actions and experiences of real people, and yet they cannot be wholly accurate even if the storyteller talks to those of the participants who are still alive – people don’t tend to remember, verbatim, a conversation they had decades ago, never mind the fact that nobody knows what was said when they left the room.
Fictionalisation of actual events has to involve an amount of making shit up, because you weren’t there when it happened: you have to guess. You also have to make certain editorial decisions, which may include whether or not to treat a widespread rumour as if it was the truth, when it can neither be proved nor disproved. A lot of the time, it doesn’t matter that much: you needn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.
It’s probably fair to say that if you are writing erotica about real people, you might need to be a bit more careful. If it’s full-tilt wild, preposterous parody then you can probably do what you like, though not always, on the grounds that your story is so absurd no reasonable person would believe it to be true. Writing erotica which features real, living people and which is also plausible is simply not a good idea (with the exception of real, living people who you know and who have in fact consented, enthusiastically, to you writing about them). Yes, of course we are all inspired at times by real people, but if you put someone you know into a smutty story, you need to change the details enough to make them difficult to identify. In which case you can make as much use of rumour as you wish.
(I included a story about naughty MPs in the Brexit porn book, but I made them as unidentifiable as possible. Which did not stop a friend asking if it was Theresa May getting it on with Jeremy Corbyn. No. It. Wasn’t. You Monster.)
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