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Muse Abuse

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"You just don't know writers. They'll use anything, anybody. They'll eat their own young."
Philip Marlowe, The Singing Detective

Muse Abuse occurs when artists exploit their real life and the people in it for the sake of their art, often to the serious detriment of the people around them and their relationships to other people in general. Related to The Muse, but more general—it's not just how the artist treats a particular other or others but can spread throughout their entire life. Also, if really unlucky, they get alienated from themselves and their own experiences this way (see the example from Neil Gaiman in the "Quotes" section).

May or may not involve the serious breaking of confidences and trust, and always involves being at some emotional distance from Real Life, consciously or obliviously.

Generally Muse Abuse works as an inversion of the Pygmalion Plot in relation to people around the artist: Real Life gets turned into art, not the other way round, and it does not end happily, primarily because the artist, in the Muse Abuse case, relates better to the statue than the live version of the Galatea, whom they may neglect or actively ill-treat. (Not that the Pygmalion Plot always ends happily either, of course.)

The artist does not have to be any good at their art for this trope to apply, mind you: Muse Abuse is compatible with a lack of talent on the part of the person who sacrifices their real life and the people in it, as well as (potentially) their personal growth, for the sake of their art. (Obviously, people tend not to be any more mollified at discovering they've been exploited by the merely Giftedly Bad, or for the sake of a work So Bad, It's Horrible.)

The trope accordingly tends to come in two main types:

A) The (wannabe) artist is resorting to Muse Abuse due to lack of imagination and actual talent. For bonus points, the artist will also get frustrated and stuck if the Real Life people and situations they are exploiting fail to develop as hoped or take different directions than they had hoped.

B) The artist is genuinely talented, but just for that reason, compelled to treat everything and everyone, often themselves included, as raw material for their art. Quite often, there will be some suggestion that this comes with the territory and is necessary for the person to pursue their art so there may be a side of Blessed with Suck or Cursed with Awesome.

Of course, artists in category A often imagine they belong in Category B, and Muse Abuse as Take That! to The Muse can occur in either of these categories - great artists are not above holding grudges.

This trope is not uncommon as a self-critical claim on the part of Real Life artists (writers, filmmakers, songwriters, etc.), though it often tends to have a ring of It's All About Me and Wangst. By extension, it is also very common, especially on the part of the Author Avatar, in fictions, often by the same authors.

Often (for extra irony) a source of True Art Is Angsty. May lead the artist (if self-aware) to Shoo the Dog, or Break His Heart to Save Him, at least if they want them to have a chance of a good life. Sometimes, of course, the would-be love object spots them coming, put off by the potential for Muse Abuse, or just plain not interested. Or the artist, if unlucky in love, may turn to Muse Abuse of the unresponsive loved one, often with more or less subtle Take Thats and, not least, the implication that the "art" version of the loved one will be what people remember.

For obvious reasons, this trope, in general, has the potential to overlap with Writers Suck. And, of course, some genres (blogging, confessional literature, the Roman à Clef, satire, and, of course, Real Person Slash) have this basically built in.

Compare Her Code Name Was "Mary Sue", Tuckerization, and The Svengali for a mentor version. Compare/contrast with Hand Puppet Mockery. Contrast Forced Creativity.

Has nothing to do with the band.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Case Closed: A few asshole victims throughout the series have behaved this way.
    • In the Sato's Ring Case, a mystery novelist with OCD is shown to regularly abuse those around him due to his obsession with his work. He's eventually poisoned in order to avenge the death of his previous assistant, who was believed to have committed suicide but who actually was killed by the author while using him as a guinea pig for a murder plan for a story, something the author did regularly.
    • The victim of the Detective Play Director Murder Case is, well, the director of a detective play who pressured the writer to have an affair with an actress because it would make him a better writer. When said writer killed the actress after she threatened to expose their affair if he didn't divorce his wife, the director found out - and was ecstatic to have a chance to force a real murderer to write a murder mystery play for him. This caused the writer to realize that the director would never stop exploiting him for the sake of art, so he killed the director using the same locked room trick he'd used when he killed the actress.
    • The Triplet Murder Case originally didn't feature this trope, but the anime's dub introduced it by changing the motive for the culprit to kill his own father from "he was using his business connections to sabotage my career so I'd have no choice but to take over the family business" to "I killed him for inspiration".
  • Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro: Inverted. Singer Aya Asia killed off her best friends because her being happy prevented her from connecting to the loneliness that allowed her to sing so well. Unlike most of the other killers in the series, her killing intent never "possessed her" turning her into a monster. She was a human being who calmly chose to kill the people who loved her and that she loved back.
  • Otomen: Juta Tachibana uses gender-flipped versions of his friends Asuka and Ryo as characters in his manga, and tends to fret over how the real Asuka and Ryo's relationship isn't progressing, which is holding back his manga characters' relationship. To his credit, with time he grows to feel very guilty about it.
  • Paranoia Agent: In the episode "Gossip", a woman finds herself unable to keep up with the local crowd of Gossipy Hens and their stories of Shonen Bat/Lil' Slugger. She comes home at the end of the episode to find Shonen Bat has attacked her husband. Rather than get help, she interrogates him for details.
  • Lemon from Waiting in the Summer is this. Seriously, she films almost every development in the series, to the point you wonder when did she get there.
  • Rohan Kishibe, a mangaka from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable, is dedicated to his fans, and wants very badly to provide them with interesting material. To this end, he uses his stand, Heaven's Door, to turn large portions of interesting people into paper, on which is written their life stories. He then uses their experiences as raw material for his manga, occasionally to the point of ripping pages out of them entirely, leaving his victims anemic and wasting away. He stops doing that after getting a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown from Josuke, though.
  • Killer Killer: The first culprit is a mangaka who illustrates a true crime serial about the events of Hope's Peak Academy's "Killing School Life". In order to get the injuries and murders right, he set up a torture room to recreate the deaths with scores of victims.
  • Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun plays this trope for laughs. Nozaki blatantly bases his manga's characters and relationships on the people around him, and often undertakes hilarious situations in the interest of "research," with the characters themselves being none the wiser.
  • In Le Portrait de Petite Cossette, the titular portrait was painted by the artist Marcello Orlando of his very young fiancé Cosette. It's eventually revealed that in order to preserve her youth and beauty, he murdered her.
  • Science Fell in Love, So I Tried to Prove it: Arika Yamamoto is a mangaka who decides to write a romance manga about Himuro and Yukimura, manipulating events according to Rule of Drama. For example, when Himuro is about to give Yukimura a present, Arika swaps it with a broken one so that it's more dramatic when she gives him the real gift and they make up.

    Comic Books 
  • Animal Man: In the final arc of Grant Morrison's run on the series, Morrison talks about a pet cat who recently died, and how even in mourning, he realized how well it would illustrate his point for the series.
  • The Eternal Smile: In Gran'pa Greenbax and the Eternal Smile, the eponymous character learns that he is actually the star of a reality-TV show (a thinly-veiled DuckTales (1987) parody), and was once a simple frog who, like all the other 'characters,' was enhanced with a personality chip. The creator of the chip and show, Elias McFadden, explains that Greenbax's personality is based on his own, and we see that at least three others, Greenbax's twin granddaughters and put-upon assistant Filbert, were likely based on people working on the show (McFadden's (adult) twin nieces and a put-upon employee named Norbert).
  • Lucifer:
    • Ibriel is either an oblivious version or a very, very deluded one.
    • Meleos deals rather better with his Magnum Opus, the Basanos, as art than as the living, plotting, power-seeking creature it becomes. Lampshaded by the title character.
  • Preacher: Amy tells Tulip about her failed relationship with an author who mined their pillow talk for information to use in creating his female characters. (His book also sucked, according to her, but that did not prevent it becoming a bestseller.)
    "Never date writers, honey. Writers Suck."
  • The Sandman (1989):
    • Bette the diner waitress in "24 Hours" is a wannabe writer who views all her regular customers as grist for her novel. She has quite a cynical approach to worming her way into their confidences to get more material, and no shame about distorting their fictional counterparts to suit her purposes.
    • Both of the artists in "Calliope", though this is more literal as they imprisoned and (sexually) abused the eponymous Greek muse.
    • Muse Abuse is also a theme in some of Neil Gaiman's non-graphic fiction works, and he has also spoken about the Real Life version of this. Specifically (from The Sandman Companion):
      "As for my take on Shakespeare, I'm basing a lot of it on what I personally find scary about being a storyteller. When something terrible is happening, 99 percent of you is feeling terrible, but 1 percent is standing off to the side — like a little cartoon devil on our shoulder — and saying, "I can use this. Let's see, I'm so upset that I'm actually crying. Are my eyes just tearing, or are they stinging? Yes, they're stinging, and I can feel the tears rolling down my cheeks. How do they feel? Hot. Good, what else?" That's the kind of disconnectedness I wanted to explore."

  • Deconstructing Harry: One character is a writer who has ruined countless relationships by doing this. Notably, he fictionalized his cheating on his wife with her sister; the film begins with the fictional recreation of the incident, then the real woman coming to his apartment to shoot him for publishing it.
  • Her Alibi: The author main character writes books about an embellished version of himself, and repeatedly narrates events as they happen at the same time, but embellishes everything about himself. Also, when his wife left him for a book critic, he wrote a book called Death of a Critic.
  • How to Murder Your Wife: The main character is a comic strip artist who "never has a character do anything he wouldn't do himself." When he marries, his character marries, and his comic strip shifts from a superspy adventure to a situation comedy drawn from his own life. Sick of the drivel he's writing, he decides the comic strip character will murder his comic strip wife — and, of course, he has to at least simulate doing the same himself. His wife is less than pleased when she regains consciousness and realizes what he's done.
  • Moulin Rouge!: Christian's Muse Abuse almost leads to the destruction of his and Satine's relationship. Because the musical he is writing is so obviously based on current events, it leads the Duke to realize that they are having an affair and intervene.
  • Music and Lyrics: Sophie is a victim of a particularly cruel version of this, courtesy of the English Lit professor who had an affair with her without telling her he was engaged and then, when it went sour, proceeded to write a novel painting her as a talentless gold-digging whore who seduced an innocent writer not a million miles away from himself, ruining his life in the process. The book itself would be bad enough, but the fact that it became a New York Times bestseller and catapulted him to fame and wealth as a literary genius completely destroyed Sophie's confidence in herself and her ability to write. And then, to make matters worse, she learns they're making a movie of it as well. Laser-Guided Karma gets him in the end when the movie — which he wrote — bombs, ruining his reputation while she goes on to success as a songwriter.
  • Gil, the writer protagonist of Midnight in Paris, unconsciously wrote himself and people he knows into his novel. The effect is an inversion of the norm: his beta-reader thinks it's unrealistic that the protagonist doesn't realise his fiance is having an affair with the pedantic pseudo-intellectual professor.
    Gil:'s called denial.
  • Taken to extremes in Cabin by the Lake, which centers around a horror movie writer who moonlights as a misogynistic Serial Killer. He kidnaps young women to keep them captive in a featureless room he built into his house, then drowns them in the nearby lake and props them up in an underground graveyard. All throughout he's asking them questions how they feel about their predicament to get more inspiration for the Slasher Movie he's writing.
  • Dewey Cox and his first wife in Walk Hard were almost certainly doomed to heartbreak for other reasons, but it certainly did drive her nuts when she could see him working parts of their arguments into song lyrics while they were still arguing. He also wrote a ballad based on their relationship which, while it ostensibly paid lip service to her as "the perfect wife," also portrayed him as being far more sympathetic and contrite for his failings than he actually was, painting her by implication as a harsh, unforgiving bitch.
  • Yves Saint Laurent: Early in the film, a Love Triangle developes between Yves, his lover Pierre and his muse Victoire. Yves and Pierre are both intensely jealous of Victoire, Yves because Pierre has sex with her and Pierre because Yves finds artistic inspiration in her. Both men treat her badly, and she leaves.

  • Best works played (and indeed has been played as a sketch on German TV). Anyway. The famous composer to his charlady: "Please! Don't go! You can't quit! You are my muse!" "Your muse, Mr. Beethoven? This is...ridiculous! Ha Ha Ha Haaaa!"

  • Audrey, Wait!: The story is about a girl whose ex-boyfriend becomes famous for writing a song about her dumping him.
  • The Favourite Game: Invoked, complete with an in-universe Creator Breakdown when the lead character realizes what he's done to his muse.
  • Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk: The story is about a creative writing retreat wherein, instead of trying to come up with story ideas, the participants opt to torture each other so they can write a book... about their harrowing experience on the writers' retreat.
  • High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby: The lead character and his record store colleagues crush on a woman singer-songwriter, discussing the hope that maybe if one of them got together with her, she'd write a song based on it.
  • The Jane Austen Book Club: Allegra dumps Corinne after learning that not only did Corinne use the secrets Allegra told her during intimate moments as the basis for her latest stories, but she didn't even write them well enough to get published.
  • Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby: The idea of The Muse is subverted, with the character getting really sick of the fanboys that hang around her house wanting to see the woman that inspired their favourite album of break-up songs.
    • It's also revealed that Tucker had already moved on from his broken heart and no longer had any feelings for Julie by the time the album was released, and now regards both the album and their affair as part of the same Old Shame, mostly because he had to feign still having a broken heart while he promoted it, mostly because said pretence led to him abandoning his girlfriend and his first child — leading him to avoid the music business for twenty years. Annie eventually points out that the album is practically the only aspect of the situation he shouldn't be ashamed of.
  • My Name Is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok: "Asher Lev paints good pictures and hurts the people he loves. Then be a great painter, Asher Lev; that will be the only justification for all the pain you will cause. But as a great painter, I will cause pain again if I must. Then become a greater painter. But I will cause pain again. Then become a still greater painter. Master of the Universe, will I live this way all the rest of my life?"
  • Nobody's Perfect, an early novel by Jacqueline Wilson, was based around a teenage girl who writes a fictionalised account of her search for her Disappeared Dad who walked out on the family years ago. She doesn't shy away from describing her displeasure in the real-life figures her characters are based on.
  • In November 9, Fallon becomes Ben's muse, with he being inspired to write a romance novel based upon their relationship, with the main heroine being based directly on Fallon. However, some of his treatment of her is questionable, such as pressuring her to show him her breasts (one of which is deformed from scars) and pressing her for details about the fire that nearly killed her and her feelings around this so that his novel will be more authentic, although it's implied and later stated outright that Ben is less concerned with the novel than he is about getting to know Fallon better. When Fallon reads Ben's manuscript, she's unsettled when she finds out the character based on Ben set the fire that injured the character based on her, thinking that it's a rather ghoulish and overly-personal twist. It then gets worse when she realises that it's not just a made-up twist, but that it actually happened, with Ben never once letting on to Fallon he knew the truth yet writing it all down in a book he intends to publish. Fallon is so repulsed she breaks off her relationship with Ben permanently...or at least until the following year.
  • "The Oval Portrait", by Edgar Allan Poe: An artist becomes obsessed with painting a perfect portrait of his new wife and fails to notice that her health is failing while she models for him. When he finishes the painting, he ecstatically declares it to be "life itself" then turns to look at his wife eager to share his triumph only to see that she died while he was finishing the portrait.
  • Portraits Of His Children, by George R. R. Martin: The main character takes this to its absolute worst level, as explained in The Reveal. His daughter was brutally raped, and the rapist was never caught. When the main character found her, the phrase he used to comfort her was "Show me where it hurts," referring both to her physical and psychological trauma. A few months later, he published, and made a significant amount of money off of, a thriller called Show Me Where It Hurts, a fictional version of the rape story in which that line was reassigned to the rapist. The main character is utterly stunned when his daughter shows up in a rage, calling him a rapist because he'd "raped" her story for profit.
  • The Sacrifice, by Julie Steven: An author believes his wife's health is connected to his work: as her health fails, he is more inspired and becomes ever more popular. Though he grapples with guilt over her suffering, the narrator notes that he wouldn't change anything if given the chance, ultimately too addicted to being critically acclaimed to give it up. Said narrator is actually his wife's muse, plotting to punish him for neglecting his wife despite how fully she devoted herself to him.
  • The Cormoran Strike novel The Silkworm hinges on this as a motive for murder, as the soon-to-be-published manuscript of a celebrated author's latest is full of grotesque and deliberately offensive Take That! depictions of many important people in his life, making virtually everyone who's seen it an obvious suspect when he's found dead in a way that clearly reflects an episode in the book. And then it's Subverted by the twist that the murdered author didn't write the manuscript everyone else has seen at all; his murderer, who is also his editor and a skilled literary imitator, spent time forging it with her plan to kill him in mind while he was writing the original, then hid his version before anyone other than herself had laid eyes on it.
  • Small World, by David Lodge: Discussed when two writers sleep together only after promising each other they wouldn't use the encounter as material in their writing.
  • The Chimney-Sweeper's Boy, by Ruth Rendell: Novelist Gerald Candless, a Posthumous Character for most of the book, has spent his career plundering his private life for his fiction, much to the detriment of his marriage. As it turns out, his official biography is not what you would call accurate.
  • Sherlock Holmes rather petulantly implies Watson has done this to him in "The Copper Beeches" by twisting and romanticizing the incidents into undignified adventure stories rather than dry scientific pamphlets. Holmes's claim is intended to be ridiculous and not meant to be taken seriously.
    • From the Sherlock-narrated 'The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier': "I have often had occasion to point out to him how superficial are his own accounts and to accuse him of pandering to popular taste instead of confining himself rigidly to facts and figures. "Try it yourself, Holmes!" he has retorted, and I am compelled to admit that, having taken my pen in my hand, I do begin to realize that the matter must be presented in such a way as may interest the reader."
  • In the John Updike novel Bech Is Back, the main character is a writer, and his wife complains that he is (unconsciously?) mining her for material.
    Bea: —I've felt myself in your mind, being digested, becoming a character.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Boy Meets World: Eric once dated a sweet folk singer girl, but soon broke up with her. Once he did so, she immediately went metal and wrote a song about how horrible he was which became a smash hit. She then set up a meeting with him, ostensibly to apologize, but he realized that she just wanted more angst to write songs about. He refused to play that game - instead, he got back together with her, prompting her to start writing Sickeningly Sweet love songs about him and effectively ending her career.
  • Castle:
    • The eponymous mystery writer meets Kate Beckett, a sexy female police detective, and decides to write a series of novels about an eerily similar sexy female police detective. He even refers to Beckett, repeatedly, as his Muse. Unlike most examples of this trope, this is rarely considered to be a bad thing in-show, barring Beckett's frustration at the "slutty" nature of her fictional counterpart, Nikki Heat. This is helped by the fact that Castle is The Lancer to Beckett and the main story arc involves her crusade (to catch her mother's killer) rather than his.
    • The Nikki Heat novels, which have actually been published as real novels, play with this trope. Upon reading them with knowledge of the TV series, the characters are clearly drawn from and recognizably the people Castle interacts with (Nikki Heat is clearly drawn from Kate Beckett, Jameson Rook is Castle, Ochoa is Esposito, Raley is Ryan, etc), and many of the situations clearly drawn from the episodes of the series. However, while certain familiar references might pop up, the cases themselves are usually notably different or amalgams of the episodes rather than taken outright, and the characters also display several traits that distinguish them from the originals (Nikki Heat is more sexually active and promiscuous than Beckett, Rook is less perceptive and useful in solving the crimes than Castle, and so forth). Most notably, although Heat and Rook were together by the end of the first book, the "Will They or Won't They?" between Beckett and Castle was still going strong in the fourth season, by which point the third book was already out.
  • ER: In one episode, someone leaves a manuscript of a steamy, melodramatic romance novel set in a hospital and featuring very thinly-veiled, exaggerated versions of Cook County General's staff, including a crippled female tyrant (Weaver), a badly-written Latina nurse (Chuny), a tall burly clerk (Jerry), and a charming Handsome Lech (Doug).
  • One episode of Frasier sees a steamy romance novel become a bestseller which turns out to have been based on a story Frasier once told the author, in confidence, about his first time. Frasier's initially furious at not being at least acknowledged, but eventually realises he's actually angry about how the relationship ended.
  • An episode of Full House has Stephanie deliberately manipulating DJ and Steve's relationship in order to get material for a story she's writing; when they find out, they start acting in exactly the opposite way Stephanie expects in order to make her stop.
  • In an episode of Hey Dude!, Danny has a newspaper comic strip that is essentially all of his friends' quirks and character flaws Played for Laughs. It's a big hit, but he stops writing it when he realizes he's just mocking his friends for profit.
  • Home and Away: The show seems to portray writers as having no original ideas, just copying things that happened to them. One classic example involved Angel entering a writing competition with a romance story, and basing it heavily on best friend Sarah's doomed romance with a Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk. She thought she'd changed enough details that no-one would know what her inspiration was. Everyone did, leading to a big falling out with Sarah.
  • Home Improvement: In the Show Within a Show Tool Time, Tim Taylor occasionally jokes about his wife, which at least one time has gotten him into trouble with her (getting caught up in one-upping other guys about annoying habits of wives, while still on-air, will do that). But in another episode he says he's figured out a system; he saves all his wife jokes until she's already mad at him for something.
  • Played for Laughs on Impractical Jokers where some of Q's punishments have him acting out stories and stage productions based on his life—none of which portray him in a positive light.
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022): In "Like Angels Put in Hell by God", it's only after Lestat de Lioncourt mangles his boyfriend Louis de Pointe du Lac into a broken, bloodied heap that he's inspired to write his first song in a hundred years. The end result is "Come to Me" (in Real Life, it was composed by Daniel Hart and sung by Sam Reid), which Lestat gives to Louis as both a Valentine Day's present and an Apology Gift.
  • On Just Shoot Me!, Maya dates the host of a children's puppet show, and later discovers that he's using his relationship as material for his show, painting her as a greedy harrigan and even suggesting a three-way with Nina.
  • The L Word: Jenny's book fictionalises the events of season one of the show. Needless to say, a lot of her friends are not at all happy with their depictions. The movie ramps it up even further.
  • An episode of Mad About You involves Jaime learning an ex-boyfriend has based a comic book supervillain on her and confronting him.
  • Malcolm in the Middle: In one episode, Dewey takes the home drama that was unfolding around Hal and Lois getting s king-sized bed and turns it into an opera.
  • At the start of The Middle Man, the heroine's struggling artist boyfriend tells her that he doesn't have enough pain and angst in his life to make truly brilliant material, so he needs to obtain "heartbreak" by dumping her. She doesn't take this well.
  • Midsomer Murders: One episode has a psychologist turn one patient's traumatic backstory into a bestselling novel. The patient murders him once he finds out.
  • The Nanny: Fran meets a rock singer named Tasha, who has become so successful, she's become jaded and developed writer's block and can't write the Angst-filled songs she's famous for. She becomes friends with Fran, and mines her misery for her songs. Unfortunately, hanging with a rock star improves Fran's mood, and since she's no longer miserable, Tasha dumps her for her friend Val.
  • NCIS: Timothy McGee writes a series of mystery novels transparently based on his co-workers, under the pseudonym Thom E. Gemcity; he very loosely bases minor characters on people at the coffee shop where he does his writing. This comes back to haunt him when a Loony Fan starts killing these muses in ways that follow the plot of the latest novel.
  • The Singing Detective: Discussed; the lead character thinks this comes with the territory if you're a writer. See also the Quotes section.
  • Slings & Arrows: Anna dates a playwright and is upset when he more or less transcribes her dinner conversation about her hometown into his play.
  • Star Trek: Voyager:
    • Notably averted in "Worst Case Scenario". While searching through the holodeck's database, Paris finds what appears to be a holonovel casting the Maquis members of the crew as mutineers. Despite this portrayal, even the "villains" happily play along. Ultimately, it's revealed it wasn't even meant to be art, but a training simulation made by Tuvok for security personnel when mutiny was considered a real danger before trust with the Maquis provisional crew was established. Then it turns out that one of their old enemies had rigged it to turn into a Death Trap for whoever used it.
    • In "Author, Author", the EMH makes a holonovel about a supposedly fictional ship stranded in the Delta Quadrant, with an anvilicious theme of hologram discrimination that makes the crew look extremely unflattering, so much so that the EMH has to rework the novel. The episode's main conflict is that the publisher won't allow the EMH to revise it, because holograms don't have rights. (The Federation decides that while he can't be classified as a person, he can be classified as an artist.)
  • The Twilight Zone (2019): In "The Comedian", a struggling comedian becomes successful when he uses people he knows for material, but discovers it has consequences: everyone he mines for material ceases to exist. At first, he tries to only use this on asshole victims but gets more carried away the more popular he becomes. He eventually atones by focusing a set on himself, making himself disappear and undoing everything.
  • In Wizards of Waverly Place, when Alex is too lazy and irresponsible to help out Harper stage a street-corner puppet show to raise funds to help pay the rent when they are rooming together in an apartment post-graduation, the two have a falling out, and Harper's puppet show features a lazy, irresponsible character that even the little kids watching the show know is meant to be Alex. Alex also figures it out easily while watching, and starts her own show, magically shrinking Justin and Zeke to use as her "puppets".

  • The Barenaked Ladies' song "Running Out of Ink" is about a songwriter who starts writing songs about his friends and their secrets. He gets famous and is alienated by his friends, but has been driven to drink because of it. At the end of the song, he puts all of the songs he wrote in a plastic bag and throws them off a bridge while contemplating jumping himself.
  • The Beautiful South's "Song for Whoever" is written from the point of view of someone who does this for profit.
    Oh Shirley, oh Deborah, oh Julie, oh Jane,
    I wrote so many songs about you,
    I forget your name
    (I forget your name)
  • Phil Collins was possibly rightly pilloried by Spitting Image for his tendency to write this sort of stuff every time a marriage broke up. The parody song "I'm So Lonely" is a skewering send-up of Collins' angst-ridden marriage breakup single "Against All Odds".
  • Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan both use this theme (in Cohen's case, also in novels).
  • Drake's habit of calling out his former flames, complete with first names, locations, and voicemail recordings, has started catching up to them (and, increasingly, him) as he becomes a superstar.
  • Eminem's early career involves him insulting his mother, wife/ex-wife, his mother's lawyer (who was suing him in response to him insulting her), the man he assaulted for kissing his wife, Mariah Carey and her husband, his school bully, and pretty much everyone else in his life. The fact that he combines real people and events with outrageous, cartoonish embellishments or grossly homophobic insults resulted in him getting hit with plenty of lawsuits, including a famous $10 million suit brought against him by his own mother for making her a comedic villain of his Slim Shady alter-ego's Hilariously Abusive Childhood - which resulted in his attacks on her getting extremely specific and personal.
  • Lou Reed's infamous Berlin album charts the destruction of his marriage and the self-destruction of his then-wife through substance abuse, wife-beating, promiscuity, emotional cruelty and loss of their children to a suicide attempt on her part. note 
  • Tears for Fears: Roland Orzabal has named his Childhood Friend, fellow bandmate and group co-founder Curt Smith as his lifelong muse. After their debut album, Orzabal grew increasingly tyrannical and egotistical when it came to what he regarded as solely his (and not their) music. note  This led to Smith being sidelined more and more as time went on, to the point where guest performer Oleta Adams had a bigger presence than he did on the band's third album. Smith was so angered by his greatly reduced role note  that he quit in 1991. An infuriated Orzabal then wrote "Fish Out of Water" as The Diss Track to Smith for leaving him. In Smith's Answer Song "Sun King", he outright calls the mistreatment he endured from Orzabal as abuse.
    • After they reunited, "Smith says the pair now realize the tension that drove them apart is what fuels their creativity." Orzabal also adds that the conflicts between them are necessary in their partnership.
      I'm a bit of a perfectionist. If you're going to partner with someone like that, you have to be pretty tough. If they're tough, you're going to have arguments. It wouldn't have worked if I'd been with someone less feisty.
  • Jim White lampshades this trope in action in his song "Christmas Day", which describes a painful meeting between the narrator and an ex-lover:
    ...and I thought, damn, what good fiction I could mold from this terrible pain.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The creator of For Better or for Worse based the Pattersons on her own family, and often used the medium passive-aggressively. For most of its run, she portrayed her husband as an idiotic, lecherous boor and the kids as selfish whiners who only existed to make their mother's life miserable. She frequently claimed events in the strip were based closely on real life... such as Michael and his pals peeking into a female classmate's bedroom while she undressed. The Inspirationally Disadvantaged Shannon was based on a relative. In the strip's final years, after divorcing her second husband, the strip took a turn for Wish-Fulfillment, with the Pattersons almost all becoming Purity Sues and falling right into the careers and marriages Elly wanted for them... a none-too-subtle Take That! at reality and her own children's refusal to do exactly what Mommy wanted.
  • The real-life Dennis the Menace had a rocky relationship with his father, Hank Ketcham, the comic's creator. Hank admitted later that, "These things happen, but this was even worse because [Dennis's] name was used. He was brought in unwillingly and unknowingly, and it confused him."
  • In-Universe examples from Foxtrot:
    • Jason often uses his sister in his D&D sessions... as various flavors of hideous monsters.
    • Paige retaliated by writing a Self-Insert Fic with Jason as a troll, eventually tied up and left to be eaten by boars.
    • Jason and Marcus play "Houses and Humans" with a level 16 boy, level 14 girl, and level 10 boy. When Peter makes a disparaging comment, Jason announces his 16-year-old sticks his tongue into a socket ("Roll percentile die to determine voltage").
    • Roger (in his trope-naming Self-Insert spy fantasy "His Code Name Was The Fox") gave his James Bond-ish character a fling with a redhead and figured his wife might get jealous, so the Fox gets two blondes in the next chapter.
  • Les Moore of Funky Winkerbean is another in-universe case. He has built an entire publishing career out of his wife's death. This includes several books, endless book signings, a graphic novel (which was nominated for an Eisner Award), two attempts at a movie, and a charity he runs. His only other known book, about the murder of crossover strip character John Darling, was a flop.

  • Several of Henrik Ibsen's plays, especially the late ones, with The Master Builder and When We Dead Awaken as standout examples. Sometimes, especially in the latter two cases, The Muse (typically a much younger girl, at least at the time of the Muse Abuse) gets her own back eventually.
  • Trigorin and Nina's relationship in Chekhov's The Seagull is sometimes portrayed this way, with Trigorin's attraction to Nina treated as simply a desire to use her as inspiration for a story. Trigorin also quite openly intends to turn Masha into a character, but Masha feels flattered rather than exploited.
  • The Shape of Things, by Neil LaBute: This trope is combined with a Pygmalion Plot.
  • Crossing over with Real Life, in the play Tru, Truman Capote reflects on being banished from Manhattan social circles after unflattering caricatures of various socialites appeared in Esquire: "How could they have spent all that time being friends with a writer and then be surprised I was taking notes?"

    Video Games 
  • BioShock: Rapture has a real problem with this, to the extent that most of Rapture's citizens probably wish the mad artists would stick to just insensitively using real trauma in a story. Sander Cohen does stuff like covering living people in plaster for sculptures (they can still attack you), writing a nigh-impossible piano piece and forcing a guy to play it on a piano wired with explosives, and makes you kill people and take pictures of them in the name of art. Steinman aspires to be the Picasso of plastic surgery... and he's particularly enamored of Picasso's cubist period. Artists in Rapture should probably be avoided on general principle.
  • Gabriel Knight 2: The title character's Blake Backlash novels are "loosely" based on local events and people he knows: a manuscript page found in Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within spoils the ending of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers.
  • In Katawa Shoujo, this a big part of Rin's route. As she prepares for her art exhibit, she refuses to reply to Hisao's Love Confession, orders him not to visit, and shuts him out entirely. One of the biggest conflicts in this route is Hisao's struggle with Rin's incomprehensibility, and Rin's difficulties with expressing her feelings.

  • DAR! A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary, by Erika Moen: This trope is covered in this comic.
  • Ménage à 3: Yuki goes into a violent fugue state whenever she sees anything that looks even remotely like a penis. while her issues aren't caused entirely by it, we learn her father is a hentai artist specializing in tentacles... whose heroine shares his daughter's name. The father is completely unaware of any negative effect this might have had on her.
  • Sluggy Freelance: Zoe lands a spot on a radio talk-show - starting out as a comic-relief side-character, she ends up basically taking it over, by regaling the listeners with the outrageous (and completely accurate) stories of her friend's misadventures. Which fails to amuse the rest of the main characters, who are somewhat annoyed that she openly mocks them on the air, with only the flimsiest cover-names in place, and ends up basically kicking her out of the house.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!:
    • When Steve wrote a series of children's books with a character based on Roger, Roger was flattered until he found out how the character acts. In a later episode "Mused and Abused", Roger declares Klaus his muse and states that he purposely tortures Klaus to use his sad and crying appearances to make his art.
    • It's revealed that one of Roger's personas has a series of art pieces depicting Klaus' abject suffering. Offended at first and breaking from Roger's toxic influence to improve his life, Klaus is eventually gaslit by Roger into accepting being a designated Butt-Monkey under the belief that his life only has meaning giving inspiration to Roger's art.
  • Rocket Power: Sam makes a game that glorifies himself while adding his friends in the game, accentuating their negative traits and qualities. He ends up reconciling by making more even-handed portrayals of them (and himself).
  • The Simpsons:
    • When Homer outed himself as muckraking blogger "Mr. X", his friends stopped talking to him since they figured it would all go on the blog.
    • Bart's "Angry Dad" character was based on Homer's frequent angry outbursts. When Homer decided he didn't want to be an Internet buffoon, he repressed his rage, leading Bart to set up an elaborate booby trap in the backyard for the sake of inspiration. Fortunately for Homer, suppressing his rage would have eventually killed him, and Bart driving him over the edge with the prank saved his life.
    • When Marge wrote a romance novel called The Harpooned Heart, she wrote in the main character Temperance's husband Captain Mordecai as an abusive, selfish slob like Homer, and her love interest Cyris is an all-around good guy based on Ned Flanders. It's mentioned she accidentally has the characters referred to as "Homer" and "Ned" for several pages in a row. Note that she originally wrote Mordecai as a caring, suave husband until Homer interrupted her writing sessions with yet another display of lazy jerkassery.
  • In the Family Guy episode "You Can't Do That On Television, Peter,", Peter becomes the host of a kids' TV show and Lois gets mad at him for ignoring his family to do the show. Peter then introduces a whiny Hand Puppet character based on Lois called Saggy Naggy, and it soon becomes clear that he's releasing some pent-up rage when "she" begins ordering Peter to do chores that Lois told him to do earlier in the episode. It gets to the point where Lois gets attacked by a mob of children who believe her to be Saggy Naggy.
    Saggy Naggy: (to Peter) You're gonna help around the house, take out the garbage, and give Stewie his bottle!
    (cut to Stewie on the couch in sunglasses with a cellphone)
  • The frontman for Grojband, Corey, pushes his Big Sister Bully Trina to extreme emotion Once an Episode so she can provide lyrics for the band. This often means humiliating her in public, especially in front of her crush.
  • In The Critic, Jay's mother Eleanor decides to write a children's book called "The Fat Little Pig", which is a thinly-veiled insult to Jay. Problems start to arise when the book becomes popular, and Jay is being ridiculed by the public. When he complains to Eleanor about it, she doesn't believe him. When she finally sees what he's going through for herself, she goes through a Heel Realization and decides to write another book killing off the character.

    Real Life 
  • "I Almost Saw This Girl Get Killed" by David Sedaris: An essay where Sedaris recounts watching a potentially fatal accident at a fairground and that feeling of horror and fascination you get — while mentally rehearsing the story you'll tell people if provided with the right gory ending. Another couple of essays reflect how his family feels about using stories about their child and adult selves for material:
    Details were carefully chosen, and the pace built gradually, punctuated by a series of well-timed pauses. "And then... and then...." She reached the inevitable conclusion, and, just as I started to laugh, she put her head against the steering wheel and fell apart. It wasn't the gentle flow of tears you might release when recalling an isolated action or event, but the violent explosion that comes when you realize that all such events are connected, forming an endless chain of guilt and suffering. I instinctively reached for the notebook I keep in my pocket, and she grabbed my hand to stop me. "If you ever," she said, "ever repeat that story, I will never talk to you again." [...] "Oh, come on," I said. "That story's really funny, and it's not like you're gonna do anything with it!" Your life; your privacy; your bottomless sorrow; it's not like you're gonna do anything with it. Is this the brother I always was, or the brother I have become?note 
  • When Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård wrote his seven-volume work "My Struggle", he was accused of this, especially by his former wives and girlfriends, because he wrote of his own life in minute detail, sparing no one.
  • One Norwegian example occurred in the early sixties, stating that this trope can be taken to destructive extremes. Author Agnar Mykle was forced to stop one of his publications, because his wife´s family intervened, taking legal action against him. The impact was so harsh on her (he had tried to use her tragic backstory as a theme in his novel), that she was Driven to Madness and later Driven to Suicide.
  • See also the Neil Gaiman example, above. He also wrote a short story about his grandmother disappearing in supernatural circumstances that were apparently so close to the truth that people who knew the true version got confused as to what really happened.
  • Howard Stern, according to himself, ruined his first marriage and a large number of his long-time friendships due to his mockery of them on his show.
  • A. A. Milne, in real life, had a difficult relationship with his son Christopher Robin, partly due to this. Supposedly, Christopher Robin as a grownup said his happiest moment at boarding school was when some of the other boys bought him a copy of "Christopher Robin is saying his prayers" on vinyl so he could smash it with a hammer.
  • The real-life Kitty Pryde now goes by a different name, as she got very tired of the Shadowcat fanboys.
  • The documentary Marwencol is all about this trope. After suffering memory loss after an attack, Mark Hogancamp starts building a 1/6-scale World War II-era town in his yard and populating it with dolls representing himself, his friends, and even his attackers. He rehabilitates his physical wounds by manipulating the small dolls and props — and his mental ones by having the figures act out various battles and stories. When Mark begins documenting his miniature dramas with his camera, his photos are discovered and published by Esopus magazine and even shown in a New York art gallery.
  • Paul Reiser reports that when fighting with his wife, he would sometimes get a distracted expression on his face, and she would say, "You're thinking of how to use this in Mad About You, aren't you?!"
  • Heather Armstrong talks about how blogging got her fired, ruined her relationships, and pissed off her family in her About page (of course, then it made her rich and famous).
  • "Mommy-blogging" in general is criticized heavily for this reason, partly out of concern for the children's privacy and dignity when the mothers share very private moments online, and partly out of concern for the children's well-being when the mothers become rich and famous off carefully covered-up abuse and neglect. One small-time mommy-blogger with Munchausen-by-proxy actually murdered her son to get hits on her blog.
  • Randy Milholland based the characters of Something*Positive on his own family and friends, and nominal protagonist Davan is himself from several years ago. As time passed, the characters developed differently but when Faye, Davan's mother died, his mother wasn't happy that people seemed relieved that she was all right. He also notes that one of the reasons he doesn't have Davan and Pee-Jee hook up is because "real Pee-Jee" doesn't like the idea. Conversely, the real versions of Jason and Aubrey aren't married, but they apparently didn't mind hooking up in the comic.
  • The seventeen main dancers in A Chorus Line were largely based on the original cast members who played them; several of them have mentioned in interviews in the years since that they resented how much personal information co-creator Michael Bennett asked them to share so that he could then incorporate those details into the characters.