Free week and I have been wondering about how people perceive other people’s writings.

If you know the life of the writer, do you assume that a scene or situation in their story is autobiographical if it comes close to what you know about them?

Carrie Fisher had to live down everyone thinking that she had shot at (ater ex-husband ) Paul Simon because in her semi-autobiographical novel and movie “Postcards From the Edge”, the main character shot at hers.

I have not only drawn upon scenes or situations in some of my stories, a few have been actually taken straight from my life. Some people know about them; some have no idea that most of it is verbatim.

Those don’t bother me or seem to perturb the people involved, as long as we agree on the facts.

Perhaps it is because I have written so much non-fiction and biographical pieces (including poetry) about others that true-life does not bother me.

However, with that knowledge in the open, a few other borrowed or ‘embroidered upon’ situations in my stories are taken as completely truthful, or in the case of some family members, fear of others assuming that they are totally factual.

What’s a writer to do?

To not use good characters, places and experiences one runs across is such a waste; to tweak them into a story is a part of the craft. Tweak them in a good way, someone may ‘correct me’; tweak them in an unflattering fashion and the same folks worry that others will see them in the story and think ill of them.

Tweak them for the protagonist and some think it must be my thoughts or actions and think ill of ME.

Have you run across this?

Are my family members overly worried? Paranoid? Perhaps, guilt-ridden? Quite possibly. I tell them to stop being so egotistical. Few people know them or would really care who the stories were about as long as it’s truly entertaining.

(Not that telling tales about me has ever deterred any of them, I might interject. I’ve often threatened to start wearing a jester’s costume when guests were present because my foibles have often been the evenings’ entertainments. Having been there, I would never purposely embarrass anyone.)

As I have mentioned previously, I don’t usually let family read my work before publication because they are terribly critical. The tendency runs in the family: Many writers, few publications and many talented people with great ideas, all of which have died before publication or implementation out of misguided fear of failure.

Not trying is automatic failure, but this they have never seemed to understand.

Well, fellow writers, has anything like this happened to you?

I am thinking about adding a bit more of my very personal experiences to my writing, drawing on some truly deep experiences. No one who reads any scene will know that it is a taken from my own experiences, so why not?

On the other hand, I have a story that I feel will be my first real novel, (A romance, which we’ll discuss next week), one that has many elements from my marriage, but more that are not. Is The Husband going to be concerned about other people’s perceptions when he reads it…probably.

Has anything stopped you from adding a truly personal experience to your works of fiction?

Have family or friends worried about people thinking that a close-to-life story or scene involved them?

About Tonette Joyce

Tonette was a once-fledgling lyricists-bookkeeper, turned cook/baker/restaurateur and is now exploring different writing venues,(with a stage play recently completed). She has had poetry and nonfiction articles published in the last few years. Tonette has been married to her only serious boyfriend for more than thirty years and she is, as one person described her, family-oriented almost to a fault. Never mind how others have described her, she is,(shall we say), a sometime traditionalist of eclectic tastes.She has another blog : "Tonette Joyce:Food,Friends,Family" here at WordPress.She and guests share tips and recipes for easy entertaining and helps people to be ready for almost anything.
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8 Responses to Dilemma

  1. Patricia Kiyono says:

    Goodness, I already thought you had enough to worry about!
    Yes, much of what I write is based on things that have happened in my life. Yes, many of my characters are based on family members. No one has EVER taken me to task about it, even the people who recognize themselves. Perhaps it’s because they recognize their good traits in the protagonists or secondary characters. And maybe because I have few truly bad characters.


  2. Many of the things that happen in my stories are based on my real experiences (with little changes to “protect the innocent,” so to speak), but I never base a character solely on someone I know. I take traits from all the people I’ve observed in life. Never, would I base a character solely on someone I know personally. That’s just asking for trouble and hurt feelings. If you observe life around you, there’s never a lack of material to draw from.


    • Oh, gosh, no…I’d never tell a person’s life, although those whom I have based characters know, (with name changes). The one whose actual story and name I used is a kid who is flattered.
      I have a friend whose life would make an incredible book and movie, (actually, part of her incredible experiences were in someone else’s non-fiction book), but I would never presume to intrude or in any way benefit from her misfortunes.
      When I name a character for anyone I know, it is never in any way unflattering.


  3. Jeff Salter says:

    It’s definitely like tightrope-walking.
    On one hand, I’m pleased that I was able to weave so many details (some slightly modified, but many un-altered) from the experiences of my father-in-law, my own father, a local WW2 vet (now deceased) who won the silver star, etc. To me, they add authenticity… as well as “recording” the incidents themselves for any family/friends who might know the individuals my characters were inspired by.
    Obviously, however, I would think differently about relating anything NEGATIVE about real individuals — whether they are in my circle of kin / friends / acquaintances… or total strangers, about whom I’ve learned certain things.
    As for one of your questions (about relatives / friends tending to ascribe the experiences in our fiction or poetry or play to us — as both the author AND the “character”), yes, it’s happened to me.
    I no longer remember the poem, but it was one I wrote while in the Arctic. I sent it to my dad, who shared it with one of my aunts. She wrote back a comment saying, in effect, that it’s a shame I had to go through that (meaning the experience reflected in the poem). It bothered me a lot.
    As I often say, when people seem to want to ASSUME too much auto-biography, I’ve written a really nasty character who’s a soul-less killer… but that doesn’t mean I have committed such murders… or would do so. I’ve written a rather raw poem about witnessing a lynching … but that doesn’t mean I have participated in one or witnessed one. I have other examples, but I’m sure you get my drift — readers need to understand that writers avail themselves of a variety of raw material from numerous sources… in order to distill it into the characters, words, and actions of our stories.


  4. Oh, no. I have not written anything PARTICULARLY bad, no real baddies, (except for one, and she came up with the idea to alter the ending of what happened to us so she is more than cool with it.)
    I mean even telling a story and relating that the person (recognizable by some as my sister) got lost while driving is enough to make her go into a frenzy.
    I am just not surrounded by supportive folks, I guess.


  5. I’ve only ever come across one negative comment from a person from my past. When he discovered I had first been published he declared “I had better not ever see me in your books!” I told him not to flatter himself.
    I have had a few family members say they see a little of themselves or a little of that bit of our life in my work but nothing that upset anyone. In fact, I have had suggestions “you should add a scene from when the family did this!”
    I’m lucky to have such a wonderful and encouraging family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are and I love the “Don’t flatter yourself!” My friends have been very encouraging. Finding someone who is neither hateful /jealous/suspicious or on the other hand just too accepting of my work has been a real trial.


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