Reflection of the Author

Have you run into a reader who thought that because you wrote a story, it must be true? Or worse, it must be about you?

It doesn’t matter in what genre a writer chooses to write, unless it’s non-fiction, it isn’t true. I know this is going to sound weird, but that means the story was created as a flight of fantasy for the author. Some of the might be more nightmare than daydream, but it’s still something made-up.

Sometimes part of it is true, but that doesn’t mean a reader can figure out which parts are borrowed from reality by reading. At least, not by a good writer.

I had a story I wrote where the original version had three characters based on real-life people. The first draft had the main character looking through ‘my’ eyes, but I shifted the viewpoint to a different character in the next draft. It became a better story because of it. To further confound people, none of the events that happened in the story were true. I just borrowed the characters to illustrate something I wanted to show in a story. I ended up changing quite a bit about each of them as I went, too. I don’t think the other people I borrowed would recognize themselves. I didn’t recognize myself in there when I was done.

I’m not sure I’m actually done with that story, or it might not be done with me. It’s such a fine line to say who’s steering these things sometimes.

Next time you pick up a book, stop yourself from wondering what happened in the author’s life to make her write that way. A writer’s mind is rich with things that could happen, if this and that changed, or if something else had been different. Subjects may be researched and not from personal experience. It might be because a story in the newspaper seemed too good to pass up for fiction. Imagination will fill in gaps where research leaves a writer wanting for information.

The question that remains in my mind is whether to look askance about any writer who poses that question about me. It makes me think more that he can’t imagine as many things as I do, and maybe his writing is about something true about him.

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5 Comments

  1. Jamie said,

    16 June 2010 at 08:57

    If anything I only add biographical stuff to fill in characters. The interesting things that happen to them is complete fiction.

  2. Les Edgerton said,

    16 June 2010 at 09:50

    Right on! When I was working on my MFA at Vermont College, my advisor at the time, Phyllis Barber, told me that “no intelligent reader will ever confuse the character in a novel with the author,” which is exactly what you’re saying. The operative word is “intelligent.”

    I just had a student in an online writing class come unhinged because I criticized her character and she took it that I was criticizing her. I had to write her a three-page letter to explain that the two were completely divorced in my mind and always are. It was just that her character was boring and so was the premise for her story. His “problem” was that… he was bored. And immediately he went into an internal monologue in his head and I pointed out that no one is going to read a book with the protagonist ruminating or wandering around in his head. I wasn’t commenting on her at all-don’t know her and have never seen her… and really don’t care. It was the character on the page I was commenting on. Period. As I told her, if it was a class on memoir, then, yes, I’d be commenting on the author. Memoir is about the author. But… fiction is just that. Fiction. It’s made up.

    Duh…

  3. ransomnoble said,

    16 June 2010 at 11:47

    Thanks, guys. It’s good to know other writers have run into that, too. I suppose it’s like all those fans who tell you they have an idea for a story they’ll give (or sell) you…

  4. Crystalee said,

    16 June 2010 at 13:11

    This is totally one of my pet peeves! I’ve especially had this happen to me in my poetry (even in an MFA program. Yikes!). While I understand that poetry can be a very personal experience for some writers, its not always the case for me, or I’ll use as situation form my own life and then fluff it up with more drama. That’s only happened with my fiction a few times, but I constantly hear that kind of thing from writers everywhere. I once saw someone online say “when there’s such a strong emotion, I can’t help but think the writer has experienced it.” My answer? When there’s such a strong emotion, that’s when you know the writer is a strong writer!

  5. ransomnoble said,

    16 June 2010 at 16:14

    It’s good to be a strong writer, Crys. You’re right!


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