Monday, April 20, 2009

Making Stuff Up

It's another Monday, and I think I'm revved up and ready for action, more or less, considering I spent Sunday singing Mozart (one quirk of living alone -- I haven't spoken out loud today, so I don't know if I still have a voice). My choir is participating in a community-wide Mozart festival next month, so we're doing intense rehearsals on the Coronation Mass. There's a lot of high, loud stuff for the sopranos. A long rehearsal is as good as a session at the gym.

To follow up on Friday's post on the way television portrays writers, I do want to stress that it was meant as humor, to be taken tongue-in-cheek.

However, I do want to clarify something:
There's a difference between writing what you know or using elements from your life and doing what most authors on TV shows seem to do in basing their novels on their real lives. Most authors draw upon their own experiences in developing characters, since we're the only people we know from the inside. If it makes sense for the story, there's no problem with making your characters be similar to what you know or live in a world that's familiar to you. That's different from writing your real life directly into your books.

For instance, like Katie Chandler in my books, I'm from a small Texas town. I first visited New York at about the age Katie was when she moved there. I don't know how well I could write a New Yorker who'd always lived there because it would be difficult for me to see it from that perspective (probably easier now that I've spent so much time there), but I certainly could write from the perspective of an outsider who'd come from the exact opposite kind of society. But there the similarities end. Although I was in my twenties the first time I went to New York and had gone to high school in a small Texas town, I didn't exactly have a small-town perspective, since I was an army brat and had lived overseas before moving to the small town. I'd already seen Paris before I saw New York. I'd seen the old Amsterdam before "New Amsterdam." I had to shut off that part of myself and focus on the one aspect that mattered to my story, just drawing upon the parts of my personal experience that were relevant.

To do what the TV characters always seem to do when they write novels, I'd be writing about a character named Anna Swanson who was a novelist who worked at home, occasionally got together with friends who were exactly like my friends and who maybe had minor adventures at science fiction conventions. Yeah, it would probably be the most boring book ever, and even to make it into something like a chick lit book I'd have to throw in a love interest (I'd have to give My Anchorman some role in the book), but you get the idea. I guess if I were a TV character and wanted to be a novelist, I'd have to start solving crimes just so I'd have something to write about.

That one particular TV character quirk really gets to me because the people who write TV series are professional writers, and surely they aren't all writing their autobiographies when they write TV scripts (if they are, then I vote we put a big fence around California to keep the rest of us safe from those freaks). They should know that writers make stuff up. I guess there's just more room for conflict or humor when a character gets a book published and all his friends/co-workers read it and recognize themselves. There wouldn't be much point in a "character writes a novel" plot if the novel had no bearing or reflection on the rest of the story. On the other hand, I have noticed a tendency for people to try to find real life nuggets in novels, as though the books offer deep insights into the author and if you can just decode it, you'll understand everything about that person. If a TV character wrote a truly fictional novel, the others could still be trying to break the code and figure it out, and that would be a lot more difficult (and possibly interesting) if the characters in the book weren't so obviously directly from the author's real life.

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