Yesterday I met a writer friend at the library to talk about his novel-in-progress and other writer stuff. It was a great meeting. For me there is nothing like a one-on-one conversation. It’s my very favorite. Like reading a book, just you and the author on this ride. So to have a one-on-one with another writer is such a treat.
One of the things that came up was how much of ourselves we put into our characters. Melissa is ME. She’s the most autobiographical character I’ve ever written, like literally pages torn out of my teenaged diary. But at some point, my characters leave me behind and become themselves. Even Melissa. For one thing, my first sexual experience was nowhere near as romantic as Melissa’s was with David. But she waited a long time to be with him and I wanted to give them something special. With help from a friend (I still am not overly confident about writing love scenes) I think I did.
My writer friend is a journalist, a very good one, who is trying out the fictional waters, and while writing is writing and good writing in one area is going to increase the chances writing in another area will also be good, at least at the sentence level, the word choice level, the degree of sophistication in the prose, there are big differences in fiction and fact. Plot, for one thing. But character? I can only speak for my own experience, but I use my emotional life to fill out the gaps in my characters’ internal stories. I usually change everything about the plot because my life is rather dull. I’m a teacher and writer. When you see these types on film, you see two minutes in the classroom, not four hours. You don’t watch someone writing a novel, although that might be an excellent new sleep aid.
For a peek into this autobiographical novella of my teenage vagabond years? “Sweet Melissa” s on sale for a sweet price for a few more days.