Am I in your novel? Truth and lies…

Another popular question, particularly from friends and relatives, is: ‘Am I in your novel?’ The answer is: maybe.

Not a single one of my novels or short stories is based entirely on a real person. However, inevitably, because of my own experiences and memories, filtered through my imagination, some characters might have elements of people that I know in them. Others might be based loosely on a snippet of a news article, or something I have heard on a bus or in a shop.

I studied psychology and sociology and I initially thought that this would help me when I was inventing characters. I also thought that a deeper insight into life and people would help me with plotting. In some ways it does, but it also creates a dilemma. Do I plot according to how life and people work, or how other people think they work?

There are many situations in life that cause disagreement. Two people may hold opposing points of view about an issue, or one person may be objective and the other subjective. The definitive knowledge is usually assumed in facts, or, as some people like to call it, truth, although often ‘truth’ is merely a negotiated point for agreement. I initially thought that it would be best to write from a position of factual experience, combined with my knowledge of people.

However, a conversation with an editor changed my mind. She told me that whilst my work was accurate factually, it sometimes didn’t reflect the various things that people believed, or might believe in the context of the story. It wasn’t one sided and filled with my own point of view, but relied on ‘findings’ and ‘facts’ for the main points of the story. That it’s great that I know about these proven aspects of life, but will the readers? I thought a lot about this, and how these opposing belief systems, which amount to different realities for people, were often the causes of deep conflict. So now I try to look at these different realities and how these play out in people’s lives, filtered through my own perspective.

This depth often forms the initial concept for a story and contains the momentum for the plot. So, whilst you might not be in my story in a recognisable, physical form, it’s inevitable that, whilst examining my own internal and external landscape, I may well have included my knowledge of you in making up a story. But I’ll be lying about you all the way through the story, because that’s what fiction is – a made up story that doesn’t necessarily correlate with anyone’s particular reality. Not even mine.

That’s the great thing about fiction, and the most fun – you make it up. Even the people in your story. Turns out I’m lying every day!