I took a creative nonfiction course in college. At the time, I wasn’t ready to share personal (or even slightly personal) details about my life. As a result of that, my essays turned out to be sorry attempts at humor that only explored areas of my life that I felt safe enough to share. Truthfully? They were all vapid.
But lately, I’ve found myself wanting to write about more personal things; particularly, I’d like to explore certain real life issues, but through fiction, and I’m wondering about how “truthful” I should be.
There’s a movie called The Best Man where friends get together for a wedding many years after college. The main character has just written a novel based on him and his friends and a secret is revealed: in college, the main character slept with his best friend’s girlfriend. The friends read the novel and start to piece together which character is which, and before long, the groom-to-be gets his hands on the novel, realizes that it’s based on real life, and discovers before his wedding that his best man and wife-to-be were once intimate. As you can imagine, chaos ensues.
I recently found myself writing a character who was eerily similar to someone I know. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that this person is probably the most self-absorbed person I’ve ever come across. So much so, that if I put him/her on the page as they are, it’s very likely that no one would find the character believable. I find myself wanting to write about this individual to explore possible reasons for their behavior. To make sense of it on the page in a way that I can’t do in real life. To right wrongs, even if I can’t do that in life. Even, perhaps, so that this person may experience some sort of poetic justice, even if only in a fictional world. There are other situations that I would love to put on the page but I find myself hesitating because I fear a “Best Man” scenario where everything is revealed and as a result of that, relationships are ruined.
We all write for various reasons: to entertain, to make people laugh, to explore things that happen in our lives and make sense of it, to get through pain, to sort out our feelings. Sometimes characters are reflections of the people in our lives but once characters are on the page, they take on a life of their own and the truths they reveal may not end up mirroring the truth of our actual lives. But what happens when they do?
Does anyone else find themselves hesitating to put certain characters on the page because they resemble people that you know? Has anyone ever experienced a “Best Man” scenario as a result of writing things that are close to home?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!