One of the pitfalls I have to keep swerving around is the temptation to write stories based specifically around people I know, or situations that have annoyed me – we’ll be leaving aside the Uncle Ranty blog posts a moment here, as they’re a special exception for sort of acerbically comedic effect.
Oh, like every other writer I ransack the features, mannerisms and behaviours of the people around me. I’m not talking about the blender through which I put people so that I can cherry-pick elements to ornament my characters. What I feel is unhelpful is when I’m tempted to write something unkind, or to use my writing as a passive aggressive catharsis.
A big part of my reasoning here is that I’ve had a number of conversations where someone has said they identify with one or more characters that I’ve written. Almost universally my response has been to bite my tongue and stop myself from asking what they are talking about. That’s because, by and large, it’s been about positive associations that people have had with characters when reading about them. It makes me happy when different people identify with the same character, because it shows that I’ve written something that resonates, or rings true, with people.
With that in mind, if people identify with characters and situations even when I’ve had no one in mind, how many people will read themselves into angry or negative pieces? My experience suggests an awful lot of us will assume the worst when we read an unfocused angry piece by someone we know even peripherally. There’s easily a half dozen people reading this right now who are probably wondering if even this blog article has something to do with them; and each of them will likely be able to think of something that they can convince themselves has triggered me to write about this.
This isn’t about you or anything you’ve done or not done or said or not said. This is a musing on my own writing process and an awareness I’ve come to about why I write in certain ways about different topics. I thought it would be interesting to think it through here, and will be interested in any comments or counter arguments you may bring in response.
Right, back to the stories…