Fiction is still stranger than truth

An acquaintance mentioned reading the e-version of my book, Donovan’s Paradigm, and asked if my parents really had a beach house in Newport Beach, did I have a dog named Swamp Thing, and is my protagonist, Erik Behler, patterned after my husband. The answers, in order, are:  Only in my dreams, yes, not a chance.

Over the years people have asked me to clarify which parts of my novel are “true.” Geez, tough answer because I really don’t know. I often stick to the axiom of “write what you know,” but my knowledge of medicine and surgery would fill a thimble. That took arduous hours of research and talking to the horse’s mouth, as it were.

What I do “know” is human nature, relationships, heartache, sorrow, regret, slap-happy joy, and perseverance, so I felt adequately qualified to hit those notes in perfect pitch.

A friend told me how flattered she was to be the character of Erik’s best friend, and I nearly swallowed my tongue because it couldn’t have been further from the truth. They were nothing alike, and I have no clue where she got that idea.

It made me wonder if friends and family see a few things they know are a part of the author’s life (like my dearly departed Swamp Thing) and expect that everything else is biographical in nature as well, and look for any similarities, no matter how small and inconsequential.

Occupational hazard, I imagine. I mean, family and friends don’t really have a clue where the author ends and the story begins, so they take ownership of situations and characters. Since they aren’t writers, they don’t necessarily appreciate or understand the high value we writers place on our imaginations. On the other hand, I have to allow that I may subconsciously include things that have me written all over it…like the fact that I can ramble when I’m upset and that I have a thing for men’s hands.

So whenever I’m confronted with the, “That character is so me!” I just pull out my stock answer – “Eh, fiction still is stranger than truth.” And when I get narked on personal traits, I blush and admit I’ve been busted.

How ’bout you? Do you find people trying to insinuate themselves into your stories? How do you deal with it?

9 Responses to Fiction is still stranger than truth

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    The darkest side of this is when a writer is accused of holding the views of their characters. Even their VILLAINS. I mean, seriously, if the villain is a genocidal racist, doesn’t that kind of say, if anything, that I am AGAINST genocidal racism?

    Sigh.

  2. Amanda Adams says:

    I don’t write fiction, but if I did my inner world would totally rob my outer world. For instance, my sister had a roommate who was murdered and left in a dumpster – yep, I would so steal that. I might make her more like a friend I had in elementary school than the actual roommate. I have stolen people’s personalities for poetry and taken creative license. I think I’m too much of a thief to write fiction, it wouldn’t REALLY be fiction.

  3. Really good point, Ninjie. Just because we wrote something doesn’t mean we advocate it.

  4. NinjaFingers says:

    It doesn’t mean we *don’t*, either, for that matter. But…

  5. Ray says:

    I can’t tell you how often people asked if The Pacific Between was autobiographical, or assumed that it was. Obviously the protagonist and I share something similar: we’re both extraordinarily good-looking, charming, and rich (LOL — just kidding). It is set in Asia…. but really? What part of “this is fiction” do they not understand? Yeah, it often baffles me when the readers assume the author holds the same world views as the characters, even the villains. Glad I didn’t write American Psycho….

  6. Aw, Ray, American Psycho would have been autobiographical…we all know this.

  7. tbrosz says:

    My first book was loosely based on my own kids, but I find the hardest part of writing ANY character is keeping them from becoming a little “hand puppet” for my own voice and personality. Fortunately, the longer I work at restricting a character to their own proper personality, the more they start to hang onto it themselves. I still have to watch myself, though.

  8. Lev Raphael says:

    I once chaired a panel at Bouchercon where Ian Rankin said his father claimed one of the characters in his current book was based on him.

    “But Dad,” he said, “She’s a nun!”

    Dad’s reply: “Don’t think you can fool me that easily!”

  9. Ah, Lev, I’m still laughing!

    Tom, it’s interesting you could write a character based on someone close to you. I know I couldn’t do that because they’d keep leeching into my character.

    The closest I ever get is character traits. For example, I have a friend who can’t finish a sentence without at least five “f” words sprinkled throughout. I stole that trait for one of my surgeon characters because it was a nice counterpunch to her being a closet softy for pregnant women.

    And no, my friend never put it together that I’d stolen that trait from her. Hah.

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