The Growl Under Your Bed Part 2: Let's Eat
I came home tonight and decided that based on my irritated mental state, writing the manuscript would be a grand ol' idea. I didn't have set plans as for where I wanted it to go or what I wanted to touch on tonight, and previously I had stopped in the middle of a lunch scene and wanted to continue.
When I was thinking about it today, I realized I write a lot of scenes centered around eating. The cannibal manuscript had quite a few scenes set in a diner. My Larson Fastings novel (which will probably have to be self-published due to the subject matter) has a key scene set in a diner. I was puzzled about this at first, but then I realized that some of the best conversations I've had have been over a meal.
Mystery fucking solved.
So I got to work on the lunch scene. It's my narrator and this girl he's into. Nothing bad has happened in the story yet. Stuff has been alluded to, but as of this point the reader is in the dark as to what is coming. I've touched upon the Karen Mitchell disappearance (using a different name, of course) and how my narrator fits in with it. (I'm not giving any of the story away here.) At this early stage, I want the upcoming horrors to come out of the blue but also seem natural. I want the tone set that the narrator is the kind of guy you would like to hang out with, but he's got his demons. They aren't strange or foreign demons, but you know that if you were lucky enough to get him drunk he would tell you a thing or two that would totally change your perception of him.
Maybe I've achieved it, maybe not. Regardless -- lunch.
I'm writing this scene with banter between the narrator and this woman he lusts after, and suddenly it occurs to me: This woman is kind of based on someone I know! I used a common name, but went back and read my description and the name and thought, "Oh shit, what does this say about me?"
The narrator in the story is not me, but like I mentioned in the last post, all my characters have some of me in them. The woman in the scene is not exactly the woman I know, but this still kind of threw me off. If this person read it, and thought I was the narrator (the story, in case you haven't picked up on it, is in the first person), would she think I desired her? Did I desire her on some level that even I wasn't aware of? And if I did have feelings for her, why did I think today that this character would probably end up strangled and buried alive?
Not a good set of thoughts for keeping a narrative flow going. In fact, once I realized this, it threw me way off. I went back and found where I introduced her, running her physical description through my mind. In my mind, she does not look like my friend. Her "voice" isn't exactly like my friend's voice, but it has its moments. (To be fair, most, if not all, of my female friends are unique and special enough that I could use them in a story to make a believable character. I just don't talk to boring females. I don't like dumb women, and I like women who are strong personalities, so to have those traits in a character are not surprising to me.)
And then I read one line she said, just one line, and realized, "No. It's not her."
Thank you, Jeebis.
I try real hard not to put people I know in my stories. I never want one of them to read it and say, "Shit, that's me." Chances are, since it's one of my stories, they won't end up in the best way. I don't want them to be hurt by that, and I don't want them to think their conversations might end up in a future book or short story. They won't and don't. I have never done it, and the Force willing, I never will. Just thinking I did really threw me off my game. I ended up cutting the chapter short and stopping because it messed me up so badly.
I can't imagine what it would be like being a friend of mine and then reading yourself in one of my fictions. I just can't imagine that being a good thing. Even my protagonists get screwed up both mentally and physically. Let alone the secondary characters.
Honestly, if when I went back and read over the sections with the woman in them and thought it was really her, I would've scrapped the manuscript and that tale would have never been told. It would've been forever tainted by the idea that one of my real-life friends morphed into one of my fictional characters.
The fact that this woman is beautiful, strong, independent, funny and smart does not make her based on one of my female friends. It makes her based off all my female friends. I'm lucky in that sense to be surrounded by women who know their stuff. I know, as well as anyone else with half a brain, that those kind of women are dangerous in all the best ways. It makes sense that I would give a strong female character those qualities. It fits the character and her role.
When I conceived of her, I thought she could go three ways. One, she'd die. Two, she'd survive and be the catalyst for the story's conclusion, whatever it may be. Three, she'd be a secondary character seen for a few chapters and nothing more, possibly being the narrator's "voice of reason." At this early stage her outcome is still a mystery.
That moment of false realization, where I thought I slipped up and let real life get into a story, was one of the most intense, strange feelings I've had while writing fiction. It was unpleasant in the worst of ways, and I felt nothing but relief when I read that one phrase I knew she would never utter.