I’ve been writing for the better portion of my life, published mostly in markets where my name had zero recognition factor to readers. My first really public outing came when a local community theater performed a play I’d written. People there knew me. People reading the program recognized my name. During the intermission I was asked by one curious gentleman what kind of drugs I was taking when I wrote the script to be able to create such characters, and would I share them –the drugs, not the characters. What can I say? It was the 80s; everybody thought everybody else had a connection to good pharmaceuticals.
The play was a comedy of errors, a farce with characters so outlandish and larger than life it was evident they were entirely made up in my head (without the help of mind altering substances, btw). These days, characters in my fictional writing are more rounded, more believable—at least I hope they are. Now I am occasionally asked if my characters are based on real people; the subtext of the question being, are my characters portrayals of people I know, family, friends or others?
Of course I draw from my own experiences to write stories, but what the bleep do I know anyway? My characters are nothing more real than spin-offs of my own perceptions. I have a rather fixed reading on everybody I know, but how accurate are my insights? How much of what I see and the way I interpret it is based in reality? More so, is it even remotely close to any person’s own perception of themselves?
For instance, everybody knows that when six people describe an accident they all witnessed, there are six different descriptions. So what do I really know about my family or my friends? What do I know for sure, about anybody? Even if I were to write about myself, it wouldn’t be how others see me; is my persona truer to their vision, or mine?
My characters are not based on any real persons. They spring from my biased perceptions and then I layer fiction on top of the one dimensional cut outs; I just keep adding the layers like flesh over bones. At some point the character comes to life and no longer even remotely resembles anybody I know—the character is now somebody I have to get to know. I have to learn their story before I can tell it.
Finally, Jung said every image in our dreams represents an aspect of the self. In the final analysis (pun intended), I think it’s the same for my characters. They might start out with a model, a likeness of somebody I know, but in the end they are really just personifications of the many voices in my head simply projecting their neurosis all over my manuscripts.
So, if any of my family, friends or enemies think they recognize themselves in my fiction and are flattered or offended, they shouldn’t be. It’s not about them at all—in fact, according to Jung, it’s all about me.