Wednesday, January 4, 2017

We're Watching You

I know Halloween was a few months ago. I’m going to delve into creepy territory anyway by writing about ways that real life shows up in my books.

Of course my own experiences inspire and influence the stories I write. This isn’t a revelation.  I’ve even given examples. When I do use real events though, I fictionalize them. I shape the details to fit my story, to protect anyone who might be embarrassed, to protect myself from anyone who might yell at me for using the incident, to better amuse myself, or simply because I feel like changing something. This is my prerogative as a writer.

I do not alter details to make anyone I know say, “That’s not the way it happened.”

There are limits to how much I let real life seep into fiction. I have never and will never base a character on a real person. Just because a character says something my sister once said, that doesn’t mean I in any way imagine that character as my sister. It only means she once said something I thought was funny. Or poignant or clever. It means I remembered that particular turn of phrase and used it. That’s all it means.

I especially avoid using people I know for physical features. None of my characters look like anyone I know. If I was picturing my mom, I couldn’t make a character act foolish. If I was picturing my husband, it would be difficult to write dialogue I couldn’t see coming out of his mouth. But you know that line you hear about any resemblance to real people being entirely coincidental? That’s not entirely true.

That means a character isn’t intended to represent a real person. It doesn’t mean that character doesn’t have attributes the author has seen in real life. A guy in one of my books does resemble a guy I saw at church. A woman resembles someone I was watching at a playground. A lot of the descriptions I use are gathered by people watching. I might see a woman toss her hair or a man flip his keys over his finger and I save that image. Now that I’ve seen it, I can describe it.

I probably don’t live anywhere near you. But other authors do, and I’m willing to bet I’m not alone. We’re on the lookout for interesting mannerisms. We’re watching you to find them. We’re noticing when you bump something with your elbow or wrinkle one side of your forehead more than the other. We’re noticing the way the light bounces off your hair or the way your sleeves are twisted. We’re noticing and we’re taking notes. Creepy yet?

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