A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog called Write What You Know, exploring the meaning behind the sage advice that many writers are given.  Delving a bit deeper into the topic, I’ve been thinking about just how this can be accomplished.  

     Great writing contains the perfect mix of truth and creativity.  This mix can be different for each writer and it is up to us to find the mix that works best.  I have said many times in the past that most of my writing is based in reality but there are always creative elements mixed in.  For other writers, their writing may be based on creativity with elements of reality mixed in, but there is always a mix of the two, even when it may not be evident to the reader.

     While working on my new short story compilation, a lot of the work is based on truths in my life or the lives of those around me.  Many things have been changed, left out, embellished or just plain made up.  Anyone who knows me well enough will be able to see some of the similarities between the stories and my life.  But even the people that know me best would not be able to tell without a shadow of a doubt, exactly what is true and what I created for the story.

     After sharing one of my earliest short stories with a friend, his response was, “Wow, that’s pretty personal, don’t you think?”  He was right of course, there was a lot in there that was highly personal to me, but that is what made the story work.  My pain and confusion was easily felt by the reader because it was something that I understood whole-heartedly and could convey to the reader quite clearly.

     While, at times, I quite literally write what I know (variations of experiences that I have had in my life), I get to change the experiences to suit my needs.  Have you ever had an argument with someone and later thought of things that you wished you had said?  Why not include that argument in your work and change it so that the argument goes the way you wish it had?

     Now that you get the picture of how writing based in reality is infused with creative elements, you might be asking how creative works are infused with reality.  Sci-fi and fantasy stories are perfect examples.  Think about Star Wars.  The places, people and in some cases, even the languages were completely invented leaving little doubt that the events in the story never took place in the real world.  So where is the reality in this, you might be asking.  It is infused in the emotion of the characters and even how they interact with one another.

     When creating a completely fictional scenario, an author can make it real by having the characters react and behave the same way the author or someone they know would behave in a similar situation.  Emotions are the realest, truest experience that can be the difference between a reader connecting to a character and being indifferent towards them.

     What mix of reality and creativity works for you?

     How would you feel about being immortal-ized as a fictional character?  Would you like to know about it?  I saw a post the other day of the picture shown on the left and it made me laugh, because this is something I do all the time; I’ve even addressed it in a previous blog (Fiction Mirroring Life or Life Mirroring Fiction?).  I believe that the best source of inspiration for any artist, is the world around them, so it is only natural that a painter would paint people they see around them or that a writer would create a character based on those around them.

     If someone were to base a character on you, would you want to have some say or would you prefer to give the novelist creative license?  I personally have created characters based on friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers.  When writing about people you know, it can be easy to translate them true to form.  The tricky part comes when you base characters on people you know next to nothing about.  People that you see, but never really speak to; the cashier at the mall, the manager of your favorite coffee shop, the girl that works at the movie theater, etc…  You see these people, but you don’t know them on a personal level.  How much can you really know about their lives from the minimal interaction you have with them, if you even interact with them at all?

     Once you base characters on them though, you start to feel like you know them.  You start to feel connected to these people in a way that you never were before.  Any author can attest to the fact that their characters become as real to them as their own friends and family.  We grow to care about them the same way we would any important person in our lives.  And that’s when the fun really starts to happen, when the lines between reality and imagination blur and you see your character walking around before your very eyes.  You know deep down inside that they are not the character that you created them to be, but the very sight of them does things to you, that you can’t even explain.  

     There have been times, when struggling with writer’s block, that I made a point of stopping by a particular place where I knew I would run into such a person.  I don’t even need to speak to them and yet, the very sight of them fills me with excitement and inspiration.  But no matter how much I would like to get to know them better, the fear of shattering the illusion I have created prevents me from doing so.  What would happen if the reality was nothing like the illusion?  Would it be forever ruined?  But then, what if the reality is even better than the illusion?  Is it worth taking the chance?

Photo Credit: kakisky (http://mrg.bz/romeat)

     How would you react if a complete stranger told you they were a novelist and based a character on you?  Would you be flattered or would you be looking for the nearest exit to get away from the crazy person that you now believe has been stalking you?