I write mostly fiction. The best stories in my opinion are about some kind of friction. Friction between characters, friction between elements, friction between the internal and the external. Too often my fiction is mistaken by friends, family, or casual acquaintances as autobiographical. Or if not that, then as a true account about actual people and actual events. Too often the friction is perceived as factual, and sometimes taken personally.
When I wrote my first novel, a relative of my husband’s took one of the characters in my book to be literally her brother. I had inadvertently named a character the same as her brother. I didn’t know her well, and I didn’t know her siblings, and neither did my husband. But she took it personally. The character was a villainous sort, committed some heinous acts in the book, and she was quick to let my husband know that that did not happen, that her brother was not that kind of person!
After several attempts to convince her that the book was fiction, that it was coincidental the character bore the name of her brother, a very common name in this part of the country, my husband gave up. She died thinking I had bashed her brother in the book unfairly. Well, some things you just can’t do a damn thing about.
But, that isn’t the only time that fiction has been confused with fact. I have written about incidences, fictional incidences, and have someone say, “Oh, I remember when that happened!” Granted I do write about what I know, about the part of Texas where I have lived most of my life. My characters reflect real people, in that they speak with the same dialect common to East Texas, using colloquialisms common to these parts. I hope.
That is my goal, to write true to life fiction, so real the reader will believe it happened, will find themselves transported from where ever they may be, into whatever scene they may find themselves. Perhaps it will be along the banks of the Sabine River on the day Texas declared its independence from Mexico, or in a shanty in West Dallas during the worst of the Great Depression. Or in Tennessee on the Mississippi River at the end of the War of 1812. Or in the 1980’s in Nashville, during an armed robbery, when the robber turns out to be a combination of personalities you almost recognize as someone you almost dated in high school, or had a girlfriend who did.
I hope the characters, the lifestyles, the places, the deeds, bring to life a real time in history. I want them to resemble real people, even though they, or the circumstances, never existed, other than on the pages of my book. But, I do rely on the reader being able to distinguish between reality and fantasy, and not confuse the two in such a way that my story is mistaken for a biographical account rather than just a good old fashioned story or historical novel about the human experience, the perils and tribulations of ordinary lives in a certain place and time!
Not much is new under the sun. Not much can be created that hasn’t been lived or imagined. Yet, for me, the challenge of fiction writing is to produce unique stories, with characters in friction with society, relationships, or themselves in a way that brushes against reality so closely, it is indistinguishable from fact. This is why, due to the problem I mentioned in the beginning, it is necessary to include a statement preceding works of fiction clarifying that any resemblance to actual persons, names, or events is unintentional and purely coincidental. Which I always do, and which I did, in the beginning of the novel mentioned above.
I guess she failed to read that part.