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On Writing – Fact Versus Fiction

Happy New Year!

Over the New Year Holiday, my wife and I traveled to my home state to visit with my parents and my brothers, since we didn’t see them a week or so ago for Christmas. For the past seven years, holidays have been pretty much focused around her family in this area and if we saw my family at all it was because we went there the weekend before the holiday or the weekend after it. My parents are getting up there in years. Unless one of my brothers agrees to drive them or we go and get them, they just aren’t physically capable of making the trip here anymore. Our former way of celebrating holidays just wasn’t fair to them.

There’s been some family discord on my wife’s side of the family over the fact that we spent Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve and Day with my family this year. It’s puzzling to me why this is such a travesty to our relatives here when married couples have been splitting time between two different families for decades but, there it is. In spite of their outcry, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time away from both the usual hubbub and the usual drama that surrounds holidays celebrated here. Though traveling is physically tiring, we’ve found ourselves mentally stimulated and reinvigorated.

As I writer, I take so many things from family traditions, stories and experiences. Even though I – and writers just like me – write fiction that we try hard not to make resemble those people and places near and dear to us, our lives do find their way into our stories. We weave our opinions and ideas into our characters and our experiences into our settings and the action taking place in our writing. That can’t be helped and really, even if you write unbelievable fantasy, it helps to write from a place that you know. Unfortunately, those traditions, stories and experiences have had a very one sided influence for me these last several years.

My two brothers have a very different world view than I have. They’re only slightly younger than me but, being several hours distant from me, they have lives that bear little resemblance to mine that gives them an entirely different perspective on so many things. I take great joy in exploring those things with them both personally and professionally. They don’t mind me weaving their personalities, humor and bugaboos into my writing and I’m glad. I’m better for having gotten to spend time with them and my stories are better too.

On a similar tack, I recently was involved in a discussion with some other writers about reviews. One writer, the author of multiple works of pure fantasy, was lamenting that she sometimes gets low review ratings because her work is “unrealistic”. There’s an understanding in certain genres of fiction – like romance and mystery – that suspended disbelief just doesn’t work. That’s why so many writers draw from their own, personal experience, the experiences of those they know and also on careful, painstaking research even though they’re writing fiction. In fantasy and sci-fi, those conventions usually go out the window as writers allow their imaginations to run wild and dream of what might never be. It’s disconcerting to such a writer to be slapped by a reader as one who writes things that are unrealistic. You can’t draw much of pure fantasy from personal experience no matter how rich your experiences may be.

Where’s the fine line for the author? Do we continue to draw on our own lives to enrich the reading experience for our fans or do we leave all of that at the door when we sit down to write?

In closing, I’d like to leave you with this thought: Talk to just about any author and you’ll find that a family member of theirs has pointed out that they see themselves in a story written by their author family member but often it’s not the character that the author really modeled on them! People really don’t see themselves as others see them.