Readers who swear they’re in your novel!

JulietcoverIt’s amazing how many times people ask me if I’ve put them in my novel. They look at me with real suspicion and even disbelief when I always answer: No!

Recently someone accused me of putting her in my latest novel to be published at the end of this month: Juliet’s Story, Book 2 of The Voyagers trilogy. She said, ‘You’ve based Juliet on me, haven’t you?’ Frankly, I was astounded. The woman in question is nothing at all like my heroine, either physically, mentally, or emotionally. They are in a different age group, and the opposite in height, weight, hair and eyes. Juliet runs her own business, and sails to Australia on a freighter – neither of which my friend would ever dream of doing.

smolking girlThen it hit me – they are both smokers! Except this person still continues to smoke and my heroine gives up quite near the beginning of the novel. But that’s such a small thing in common to assume I used her as a template for my heroine.

Someone else who I’ve known a very long time said that as a writer I ought to make up my characters and not base them on any real person. She said I should use my imagination! What on earth do writers do except use their imagination?

I tried to explain that as in the song from The Sound of Music, nothing comes from nothing. That we writers take bits and pieces from several people, consciously and sub-consciously, to make an original character. It might be something as subtle as a gesture. One of the passengers, Trevor, on Juliet’s freighter constantly rakes through his thinning curls; that was taken directly from one of my ex-employees, but this man’s personality was not like Trevor’s at all. Or I might come across someone with an unusual feature.

turquoise eyesA woman I know has stunning turquoise eyes – a colour I’ve never seen on anyone before – so guess what colour eyes my latest heroine has? Or I might ‘borrow’ someone’s hobby. I needed a ‘wind-down’ interest for Juliet, and so I have her making greetings cards. I wouldn’t have thought of this if a certain literary agent didn’t have the same hobby.

I guess the lesson learned is that non-writers have little concept of what it entails to write a novel. And thank goodness. There are enough authors in the market without millions more joining us!

2 thoughts on “Readers who swear they’re in your novel!

  1. flamingobrill

    “the song from The Sound of Music, nothing comes from nothing.” Love this reference, never thought of it quite that way before.
    I just did an author/book talk last night and talked about how “writing what we know,” often means as you say, taking bits and pieces from our experience and combining them in a new or different way.
    I chuckled at your story about the friend who thinks your character is based on her. I had the exact experience when my sister read an early draft of my first novel. I didn’t see the similarity at all. She helped me realize well rounded characters resonate with readers for reasons we may never know and maybe not the reason we intended.

  2. fenellaforster

    Nice to hear from you and funny you had the same thing happen. I don’t think we writers realise how impactive our writing can be. Our words go into other people’s heads and they must interpret things so differently to come out with some of this crazy stuff 🙂
    But sometimes one of their utterances go into my latest novel! So nothing’s lost!

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