We frame our reality is stories. We remember life’s occurrences not in the continuous minute details of everyday, but as episodes, or chapters. Memories become the fictional story of life, a subjective interpretation of objective reality.
Thus, fiction and non-fiction tread a fine line. A writer who conjures imaginative stories may believe her telling has little to do with people who have crossed her path.
I always write about what I know. Let me put it here. Every character I’ve ever written (and I only write fiction) had a connection to someone or someoneS I know or knew.
But they always wound up so changed that they were no longer, factually, those people. That’s the beauty and the truth of fiction. It allows shaping people/characters in service of the greater story.
When my father read a very early draft of THE VOICE OF THUNDER, he bristled at the actions and sayings of Mira’s father.
“I would never say or think that way,” he said.
“But Mira’s father isn’t you,” I said.
“People would think he is,” he said.
“But he ISN’T,” I said.
My literate, poet father, who understood the power of fiction better than most, also understood how blurry the line would be for most readers. Even if the story were never published, some friends and beta readers would have read it. He was right, because many of them clearly did not make the distinction.
I then went into my frustrated mode and said the unthinkable. I quoted Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird)
“A writer should write as if their parents are dead,” I said.
“But I’m not dead,” my father said.
My father died some years later, and before the story had a publisher.
Herein lies the dilemma. You should write what you know. What you know are the people and stories you know. But you should not kill anyone real in the process.
The way I have managed telling the truth in my fiction is to begin from what I know and then let it be sufficiently different, let it sail away, to where only the unimaginative would insist it is a memoir. (And, by the way, everyone is entitled to write an honest memoir, also. I just never did.)
When it comes to non-fiction posts mentioning real life family members or friends, (such as this blog's posts, comments on social media, or articles) I follow the golden rule. I will not speak of others as I hope they will not speak of me. If I need to say something unflattering, I will disguise the person beyond recognition.
Fiction is liberating. I especially like magical realism, where the story can fully manifest and the theme can glow because listeners/readers are unlikely to confuse it with real life. There I get to tell it like it truly is, or at least as I understand it.
I welcome your thoughts on this, as a writer or a reader.