Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Fiction Day - "Is This Me?"

One of the biggest fears I have about my mystery coming out in February 2012, is that people who know me will wonder if a character was based on them. My husband and I joke about who we'd be, but that's different. My oldest son said I molded the girl child after him, and he runs around calling himself Ivy, asking when Ivy is going to blow up cars, beat up thugs and save the world.

But what about the parental figures? The boss figures? The friends and business acquaintances? The neighbors? I keep getting asked if I wrote about somebody, and I always say, "This is a work of fiction."

We draw from life's experiences for our writing, and in the back of minds we hoard ideas. So when a person has a funny way of walking or holding his hands, we apply it to a character. The way they sashay into a room, or flop into a chair. The way they eat lunch, or how they drink only one kind of beer. We extract reality and infuse it into make-believe.

I found myself forever changing characters around, in an effort to remove any and all doubt that anyone would think it was him or her. The ex-husband looks and acts nothing like mine in real life. The office workers...the same. The children...deleted and redesigned (thus the girl in lieu of a guy).

The Paris Wife: A NovelIt's a fine line we walk as story-tellers . . . the line between what we know and what we create. On the blog "Mystery Writing is Murder," Elizabeth Craig writes about Hemingway, and how he alienated some friends by clearly writing about them . . . and insulted his wife by not writing about her. But then her post spun into the same concern I had . . . that people she knew would take issue recognizing themselves, or pieces of themselves.

Per Ms. Craig: "For me, it’s more fun to take lots of small bits of different people and make it into a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of a new character. That way I’ve still got the solid traits that I can easily describe, but I’m not drawing too much from one person."

Oh my gosh, I felt better. I'd done just that. I'd Frankenstein'ed all my characters without knowing it. Whew.

Wait, what if like Hemingway's wife Hadley in The Paris Wife, the people I know get upset that I DIDN'T give them a character in the book.

Big sigh.


Sioux Roslawski said...

You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

I love the idea of "Frankensteining" characters.

Kathleen Basi said...

Then there's the other side of the equation: nonfiction, and when you really want to write something that really DID happen, but it involves a real person...that's an entirely different line. That's the one I'm puzzling over on my blog today.

Julia Munroe Martin said...

I would say yes, it's fiction, but in mine there are definitely real people that my characters were loosely based on -- say an ex-boss, an old friend, even one of my kids or my husband -- but once they're in my hands, who knows what they may become. So I guess I Frankenstein my characters too.... great new term! :)

Hope Clark said...

Oh, my story is fiction, but whatever I write, I ponder some trait that belonged to somebody in real life.