I’m reading a novel by someone I know, and I know that her fictional story sprang from a real-life experience, so I find myself occasionally wondering which parts are “real” and which parts fiction. I feel a little crummy about this — it feels akin somehow to snooping through her medicine cabinet without her knowledge, listening in on her telephone conversations or gossiping about her behind her back. Even though I think she’d understand that my desire to distinguish what’s real from what’s fiction is a compliment; clearly, she’s made the entire story believable and succeeded in making the lead female character sympathetic, even when that character makes bad decisions. Still, I am embarrassed to tell my friend that I’m having this problem. (I’m banking on the fact that she’s too busy to read my blog.)
Nonetheless, this experience has me thinking a lot about the struggles of fiction writers. I haven’t written fiction in a long time, but probably not coincidentally, today I found an entry in one of my old notebooks, written ten years ago when I was attempting fiction, and I’m surprised at how relevant it still feels:
Maybe the thing about being an artist is that it gives you an opportunity to be someone you aren’t. For my brother, being an artist meant a life of photographs of sports figures, student athletes — people he once wanted to be but never really was. For me, art is a way to take action through fictional characters. In the short story I’ve been writing, the main character is promiscuous; that’s how she releases all the anger and frustration she feels. I think maybe I’ve never found a way to release my frustration, but in a fictionalized story the “me” character gets to do something worthy of disapproval because it helps her cope. It’s something I won’t allow myself to do in real life. In a fictional account, everything makes sense. Nothing happens that doesn’t get explained or resolved somehow later. Real life isn’t this “neat.” There isn’t always this sort of logic. When I spin real life into fiction, I get to assign meaning to everything. I can make it make sense. Maybe that’s why I write. Why do you read?
I think that’s still why I write. But why do I read? A question from my former self to my present self, perhaps. That’s something I want to think more about.