It can’t have just been me and my friends who did this. You’re young. You’re naive. You have a basic grasp of grammar and spelling, and maybe even a keyboard. The keyboard’s not important, except in many years later when you want to crush your forehead against it for considering such a idea.
You have an imagination, an idea that wants to be heard. You write a story. But here’s the clincher, you make your friends the main characters, names an’ all. Their own personalities, (or what you deem to be their personalities, which isn’t usually what they consider their personalities to be at all,) their own turn of phrase, hell even their choice of outfit reflects their real life. You ask them what their favourite weapon is, what type of fighter they want to be, what familiar they want by their side. You fix them up with their dream other half with cheek bones like sawdust and hair like a racoon’s nether regions. And then you unleash all kinds of hi-jinks as your friends demand to read it and usually complain at how much the character isn’t like them at all. Sometimes you might be brave and finish the story. Most of the time though, you’ll reach the point where you’ll either realise the thinly veiled characters are a disaster area and stop writing, or more likely, you’ll just get bored, give up, move on.
It’s easy to cringe about it now. It’s enjoyable to relish the superiority you have now, to rejoice in how much of a better writer you are now, how much more talented you are, how you’d never fall down that slippery slope again. What a mistake, you snigger to yourself behind your adult coffee granules and copy of Pensions Weekly. But is it really altogether that awful a concept? Sure, it’s not usually the best piece of work you’ll produce in a lifetime. It’s a legal backwater of ‘if this was ever rewritten and you tried to publish it later, all your friends would probably still have grounds to sue you.’ It’s always a little cheesy and runs the risk of you pandering to your friends as they order you to put them in this situation or make them answer a problem in a certain way.
But think back. Was that one story not one of the most fun pieces of work you’ve ever written? I remember the first time (and as it turned out the last,) I wrote a story about my friends. The idea behind it was that anything and everything happened, and it certainly fulfilled that brief. The only time I’ve come as close to free-form writing since then was Script Frenzy and NaNoWriMo, and even then I had come too far into the lion’s den of grammar and punctuation and things having to actually make sense, the world having to have logistics, the plot having to be cohesive. When I was ten? None of that mattered. It was a whirlwind ride of riding-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writing, and it stretched my imagination to its limits and beyond. It was also one of the only times you begin writing, and immediately have an established audience desperate to read every word. Unless you’re writing a series of books which really take off, you almost never have that market as soon as you open a word document. Not only that, but there is an interactive element. Your friends may give you ideas you’ll never have even considered, and they’ll feel personally involved and responsible for the direction in which the story has gone. And yes, they’ll pipe up if they feel the characterisation is shoddy. It may just be because they don’t want themselves misrepresented, but it’s all valid criticism after all. Unless someone’s only commenting because they want themselves to be the super-duper Mary Sue, it’s going to expand a character in a way you originally would not have thought of.
Plenty of people claim to have based their characters on real people, after all. I can’t count the amount of university lectures I’ve received where someone has mentioned how ‘I’ve based so-and-so off my mother, my sister, my dog. They have the same personality trait as someone in real life, and I just disguised that a bit.’ And that’s perfectly okay, as long as the entire character isn’t just one of your bosom buddies completely slotted in there for comfort. Or your enemies, because there’s probably a lawsuit in there somewhere. So if the idea of real life influence isn’t the thing that’s being criticised, then what is? Why is ‘including your best mates in your first ever novel,’ really seen as such a terrible thing? Because it’s easy to look back and laugh, but if you can look back and go, ‘okay, it’s not great, but there might be something still in this that I can use for my writing today.’
My point? It’s a natural process, a form of real life fanfiction if you will. And it’s easy to scorn and snort with derision at how immature you were when you wrote it, how immature the whole idea is now, but . Take a look at Facebook recently, and the new trend for statuses. The ‘pick five of your friends, and label them according to a common theme. Who would be the dashing captain of a spaceship, the one who dies first in a zombie invasion?’ I know it’s not exactly novel writing, but it’s still creative nonetheless. And if after writing one of those statuses it sparks the imagination enough for someone to write a story out of it, then it’s no bad thing.
Sometimes it’s useful to look back at what you did before, so you can improve the right now. And you know what? It’s easy to forget, but it’s okay to write for fun sometimes. It doesn’t all have to be serious novel epics where every plot point is in the right place. Sometimes enjoying what you writing slips your mind, and gets taken over with the urge to be serious and proper and produce masterworks we can be proud of. But you can be proud of the fun little stories too. Have a go at just sitting down, and letting your imagination fully dictate what you write for a change, instead of the pressure to be perfect.