How I People My Stories

Any writer out there who has shared their work can tell you that they field two questions the most of any others asked. One, where do you get your inspiration? Two, do you put people you know in your stories?

My answer to question one is glib and simple: everywhere. The ‘What if…’ that is the genesis to any story can be sparked by anything. Anything. Sometimes at the most inconvenient moments.

Question two is far more fun to field, particularly because I have to think about it.

mirror by Paul Keller via Flickr

mirror by Paul Keller via Flickr

I would never consider myself a narcissist, I just don’t like myself enough to be obsessed with me (sorry self), but I do put myself in my stories. Sometimes on purpose, other times it’s kind of a surprise when I go back and read them. It’s important to write what you know, so I try to write from emotional places I know when I can. Writing has always been part catharsis for me, and sharing an emotional problem with a character and then writing them out of it/showing them learning how to live with it, is healing for me.

Not all of my characters share my anxieties and fears, or all of my anxieties and fears. You can’t force personality aspects on characters that are unnatural for them. Neither do I put my characters in my exact shoes and have them live my life experiences. I would hate for someone to read this and then read a story I’ve written where something truly horrific happened to a character and think that that’s me incognito. I am not my characters, my characters are not me. We might share a few characteristics, but that’s as far as the connections should go.

As far as people other than me, I don’t consciously or intentionally put them in my stories. I know new authors always go through moments of terror about a certain person reading their work and then accusing them of putting them in their story. I’ve never had that fear. But then I haven’t written or shared a ton of writing.

I don’t see people I know in my writing. Perhaps I’ve riffed off traits I admire in people I know, but I’ve never done it specifically. I’m wondering if I may have a tendency to do the opposite, to take people I know and disguise them. I really don’t know. I’m going to have to wait for an accusation.

I like to write characters who are willing to do things I’d never consider attempting. It’s a way to do the outrageous safely.

Regardless, I am no Steinbeck or Munro. I’m not writing out my life story in a mirror town in order to veil my autobiography. If I wrote those books they would be very boring. I would be very bored writing them. They’d most likely devolve into far more interesting odes devoted to my cats.

Now, if I could go live the lives of the characters I write….I don’t know if I’d be excited or petrified. I like indoor plumbing and creature comforts far too much to go trekking off with the women I populate my work with. Honestly, they’d probably ditch me at the beginning of the adventure. For my own good.

Abandoned Gas Station On The National Road In Ohio by Mark Spearman via Flickr. This is the kind of place they'd leave me. Though why we'd be in Ohio...

Abandoned Gas Station On The National Road In Ohio by Mark Spearman via Flickr. This is the kind of place they’d leave me. Though why we’d be in Ohio…

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