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Miss Americana And The Guy On The Chiefs | Writing Real Folks Into Fiction


Even if you've been living under a rock for the past few months, you have likely heard about Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce's romance. But if you're not in the know, Travis is a tight end who plays for the Kansas City Chiefs and Taylor Swift is Taylor Swift, and the pair has been romantically linked since about September 2023.


As I've mentioned in past posts, I don't consider myself a Swifite. I appreciate her as a songwriter and am in awe of her stage presence and the production of her Eras Tour but she's not in my usual rotation.


I was actually keeping closer tabs on Travis when the initial rumors were roused because he happened to be my tight end for the 2023 season of fantasy football!


Naturally, once the first speculations regarding their relationship status began, it seemed impossible to log onto any social media platform without some mention of it. The NFL would be sharing updates on Travis's stats when Taylor was in attendance at a Chief's game compared to when she was not. There were the expected jokes of predicting the lyrics Taylor would write about him when they "inevitably" broke up after the supposed publicity stunt ran its course. I admittedly quipped once about the two of them needing to stay in that "Lavender Haze" through the duration of the fantasy football season because my ranking depended on it and posted a screenshot of his score when it was at 13 points with a projection of 22.


But the societal interest seemed to transcend the collective fascination with a celebrity romance.


In a lot of ways, it feels like watching a romance novel play out in real-time. Taylor was newly single after a six-year relationship and at the height of her career. Travis's team won the 2023 Super Bowl, so he's also successful but hasn't settled down like his brother and fellow NFL athlete, Jason. And I'm sure there's plenty of banter to come between them since Taylor grew up as a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, which just so happens to be the team Jason plays for.


In other words, they're the perfect kind of protagonists for a romance novel.

There's a reason we were all gushing over that clip of Taylor running to kiss Travis after her show and love how she changed the lyrics of her song to "Karma is the guy on the Chiefs" during a show he attended; she also at one point changed the lighting to match his team's colors and is often seen in Chiefs attire when in attendance on game day.


Travis has been caught dancing to one of Taylor's songs at a bar making and friendship bracelets like the ones her fans trade with one another. His mom, Donna, has also been seen sporting one with both his and Jason's jersey numbers and bonding with Taylor in the box during games. Meanwhile, Taylor's father has been seen wearing a Cheifs lanyard. In other words, it's clear their parents are fully, wholeheartedly supporting their relationship, which we love to see.


The romance genre is no stranger to sports-themed romances. Hockey romances were especially popular on BookTok a few months back (though it did ignite some controversy that I'll be touching on later in this post).


Competitions are often the basis for the rivals-to-lovers or enemies-to-lovers tropes. Depending on the trajectory of a character's career, you may also be dealing with a celebrity romance. And the end of an athlete's professional career can open the door to other tropes like returning to their small hometown or reuniting with an ex for a second-chance romancenot to mention a character trying to figure things out and find themselves again after an unexpected career change due to injury or moving to a new state after being traded can make them all the more compelling to readers.


Not to mention that a game of Shirts vs Skins can create an opportunity to show off your love interest's robust chest.


Similar may be said for characters who are musically gifted. There's an abundance of scenes in which one character will teach the other a few guitar chords and get all cozy or try to get them onstage for a duet at the local pub's karaoke night. As is the case with athletes, you may have a celebrity romance or the trope of a successful singer returning to their hometown and realizing they need more in life than just their career in the vein of Hannah Montana: The Movie. Or you might have the character who always wanted to be in the spotlight but had to set that dream aside to help run the family business, and it's not until their new love interest encourages them that they begin to put themselves back out there.


It's also common to see Taylor's presence within the Bookstagram and BookTok spaces. Authors will sometimes describe their books as being "Reputation-coded" or use her songs as comps, saying their mystery novel is like "No Body, No Crime" meets "Bad Blood." Readers might share book recommendations based on each of her albums or top songs—eg, 5 Reads For Anybody Who Has "Now That We Don't Talk" On Repeat—or highlight potential references to her music in their recent selections.


Knowing Taylor's influence on pop culture in general and how her new romance with Travis has taken social media by storm, one might guess we'll be seeing plenty of Football Player x Musician romances hitting the shelves in the near future.


However, before you add your own to the roster, let's review some of the rules surrounding taking inspiration from real-life folks and writing them into a work of fiction (including Miss Americana and the Guy on the Chiefs).


Author's note: I want to preface this section with a reminder that I am not a lawyer. Everything referenced in regard to legalities and the like will be linked throughout.


Additionally, I am not writing this post to tell you that you shouldn't or can't write a romance novel about a singer and a football player. However, there are legalities and ethics that need to be taken into account.


Writing Real Folks Into Your Fiction—The Legalities

Writers take inspiration from all areas of their lives. I'm sure we've all had that one song that's sent us meandering through a dramatic music-video-esque daydream as we stare out of the passenger seat window. Or there's been a bit of folklore that we want to delve deeper into and put our own twist on.


And of course, we may be inspired by the people in our lives.


Write what you know, right?


The characters in my WIPs might borrow a trait from one person and another quality from someone else. They're a blend of many encounters and experiences.


There's nothing wrong with this.


However, the waters get a little more murky when a whole character is based on one single individual.

Is it illegal to feature a character who is inspired by someone you know personally or by a celebrity?


Within the copyright information and other legalese, there will usually be a disclaimer stating that the story is a work of fiction and that any resemblance to any real person living or dead is purely coincidental.


There might also be a modifier if you're drawing from a historical event. If you're writing a novel that takes place aboard the Titanic, the disclaimer might acknowledge that the work is based on the real tragedy and features historical figures like Thomas Andrews or Charles Lightoller, but your protagonist Ada O'Keefe and her story are entirely fictitious.


What makes this disclaimer so important? For one, it protects against libel accusations. In short, libel is a false statement about someone that damages their reputation.


Let's say you've written a fictional character named Desmond, who is based on your ex named Donny, and there are enough similarities for not only Donny to realize he was the origin of Desmond, but for people Donny knows to pick up on it. And he's not happy about it.


Donny then sues you for libel and defamation.


Typically, these cases don't make it too far in the system and are resolved in the author or publisher's favor.


According to this post from attorney Lloyd J. Jassin, "The description of the fictional character must be so closely aligned with a real person that someone who knows that person would have no difficulty linking the two. And, there must be an implicit belief that what the author said – notwithstanding her denials – was true."


In other words, Desmond would have to be a carbon copy of Donny written in a way that damages his character and impacts how others perceive him IRL for any legal action to move forth.


In order for a claim of defamation to be proven, the following criteria must be met:

  • The depiction of the person's character is false and is not just an opinion held by the writer.

  • The person the character is based on can be clearly identified.

  • It is read or heard by someone other than the target or "inspiration" for the character.

  • The depiction goes beyond insults or rumors and causes severe damage to the subject's reputation.

  • The work was published with the intention of causing harm to that individual.

In other words, writing a romance novel about a football player and a pop star that is inspired by Travis and Taylor's romance is fair game, provided there is no malicious intent on your part, right?


Legally speaking, yes.


However, the law is not the only thing one might want to consider when picking up the pen.


Famous Faces In Fiction And The Friction It Causes

Now that we've gone over the legalities of taking inspiration from real-life figures, there are also the ethical ramifications to consider. Even if you aren't breaking any laws and might be intending to write a tribute to someone or honor them in your writing, they may feel the opposite.


A common example I'll bring up when it comes to taking famous inspiration for a work of fiction is the After series, which has origins in a One Direction fanfic published on Wattpad. Set on a college campus, After follows Tessa who gets into a relationship with a fictionalized version of Harry Styles, who is described as, "a rude boy... with too many tattoos and piercings who shatters her plans."


This Harry Styles insert was later renamed Hardin Scott.


Styles himself hasn't said anything publically regarding the book series or its film adaptations, but some of his fans have expressed feeling conflicted or have called out author Anna Todd and the films' creative team for the portrayal of the singer. Hardin is widely regarded as abusive towards Tessa and is considered a far cry from the real Harry Styles. There have been rumors floating around that Styles filed for a restraining order against Todd, but these are unfounded.


However, it does seem that Styles wishes to distance himself from After and isn't exactly pleased with his ties to the franchise.


We've also seen similar celebrity reproof concerning the original design of Ellie in The Last of Us being changed due to the striking resemblance to Elliot Page (top right).


For context, this is different from Jodie in Beyond: Two Souls looking like Elliot Page because he did play Jodie and consented to the use of his likeness in addition to voice acting and doing the mocap for the character (bottom right).


Regarding the original Ellie design for The Last of Us, Page said he, "should be flattered that they ripped off [his] likeness... but [he was] actually acting in a video game called Beyond: Two Souls, so it was not appreciated."


More recently (and perhaps more on-topic), we've seen this disapproval on BookTok during its big time hockey romance rush. To sum everything up, many within the romance community found themselves falling head-over-heels for Alex Wennberg of the Seattle Kraken.


Why?


Wennberg had become something of a collective faceclaim for several hockey romance leads. In other words, readers were casting him as the lead in these books, sometimes even using his image in reference to these books in their posts or reviews.


The Kraken got in on the action, with the PR team cracking jokes of their own on the team's social media—not too unlike we've seen the Chiefs, Eagles, and NFL itself doing in relation to Taylor and Travis's relationship along with companies like Build-A-Bear Workshop. And as we've lately seen with football, there were a slew of new hockey viewers and fans as a result of the trend.


All in good fun, right?



Wennberg and his wife, Felicia, posted a statement to Instagram, which in part read, "Enough of sexual harassment, and harassment of our character and our relationship," begging readers and fans to put an end to the trend that had gone too far for their comfort.


Additionally, Alex asked the public to stop leaving inappropriate comments on his wife's Instagram profile:


“I’m all for the booktok community to write books and fiction about hockey, but the aggressive language about real-life players is too much. It has turned into daily and weekly comments on our personal social media. This is not something we support or want our child to grow up with. All we ask for is a little respect and common sense moving forward. We can all take a joke and funny comments, but when it turns personal and into something bigger that affects our family, we need to tell you that we’ve had enough.”


Eventually, the Krakens PR team seemed to realize they'd gone too far and pulled back, deleting any BookTok-related posts. And, for the most part, BookTok moved on to other trends.


So what does this BookTok drama have to do with Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift?


Everything about their relationship is still new. At the time of writing, it's only been a few months since they were first romantically linked.


They're both high-profile and in the public eye, but they also have the right to privacy in their personal and love lives.


If You Are Going To Write A Football Player X Singer Romance...

Like I mentioned at the top of the post, I'm not here to tell you that you shouldn't write a romance novel about a singer and a football player. I'm sure there are a few writers who already have one in progress as I'm typing up this post!

As long as you're doing so in a way that doesn't directly involve Taylor or Travis themselves, you should be good.


Be inspired by them. Don't write about them.


Keep it neutral and unrelated to them.


A romance novel titled End Game featuring a pop star named Kelsey and a tight end named Tyler who plays for a football team called the Archers might be a little too on the nose and run the risk of trouble.


A romance novel titled Red Zone about a bluegrass singer named Melissa and a quarterback named Glenn who plays for the Wolverines is more likely to be in the clear.


That said, a brief reference to Travis and Taylor might be permissible. For example, you might have a side character remark on your protagonists' romance and say that they're basically the new Taylor and Travis. It's a pop culture reference that many readers would get, just as one might get calling them the new Brad and Angelina or Ross and Rachel or Jim and Pam.


Just be wary of potential legal or ethical pitfalls if you're taking inspiration from Miss Americana and the Guy on the Chiefs. It's easy to take things too far or end up with a romance that reads like a cheesy tabloid you'd find by the checkout lines at the grocery store.


Chances are you won't get to meet Taylor by basing a fictional character on her, but you just might get to meet her legal team in a swift lawsuit if you're not careful.



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