Tuesday, August 15, 2006

No, You're Not In It

Probably the most frequent question I hear from friends and family regarding my novel is: "So, am I in it?" The second is: "Is it autobiographical?" The answer to each is no (except for one minor exception -- see below) and no.

First of all, most writers prefer to remain friends with their friends, and as for family -- well, we at least want to be able to show our face at the dinner table next Thanksgiving. Although the idea of showing up as some character in a novel may seem appealing, it is the rare individual who is actually pleased when he reads how the writer portrays him. I mean, really, most novels are not about happy, perfect people, right? The characters must have flaws (and sometimes those flaws are really big ones!) in order to be interesting. Of course, we all know there are no perfect people, but that still doesn't stop your friends from expecting you to portray them as such in whatever you write . . . Most writers are very familiar with certain horror stories about what happens when you don't -- think Pat Conroy and his book "The Great Santini." Having a bestseller subsequently made into a movie sounds great and all, but I'm just not sure it's worth the exile he reportedly suffered. So, it's best to stay away from modeling your characters on people you know. No matter what you do, they won't like it.

That being said . . . there is one very minor character in my novel who is based on someone I know, but I've already forewarned the person. I believe this particular person knows himself/herself well, and also has a pretty good idea of his/her reputation (both in the eyes of admirers and detractors), so I don't think my portrayal will be surprising nor will it offend. I fit into the "admirer" category, so I consider my portrayal of this person to be favorable. I hope my "model" agrees!

As for the second question, is it autobiographical? The best way to answer this is to remind readers that this is a novel. My handy Merriam-Webster pocket dictionary defines "novel" as "a long invented prose narrative dealing with human experience through a connected sequence of events." Key word -- invented. Autobiographies and memoirs are both completely different beasts, and indeed, it's the rare person (I believe) who has an interesting enough life to write a whole book about it! Of course, all writers will admit to borrowing from their personal experiences to some extent or another -- the 'ol "write what you know" -- but what makes being a novelist so much fun, in my opinion, is the ability to tell the story as I see fit. I like to compare the act of writing to going to the movies, or dreaming. When I write, I get to immerse myself in a whole different world for a few hours each day, and even better, I get to decide what happens. (Or sometimes, my characters decide for me.) And though it's true I tend to stick to the types of people and places I know, and indeed sometimes I use little details that come straight from life as I know it, these things are what I would call my framework for the larger story I decide to tell.

So, when you don't see yourself in my novel, I hope you'll forgive me. Just chalk it up to the fact that I value my relationship with you -- whatever that may be!