One of the hardest things about writing, and creating an honest, true to life story, is that you have to include personal details. But how much personal info is too much – and what happens when people recognize themselves in your work?
Personally, I’ve never had anyone say they recognize themselves in my stories – or at least, not accurately. Some people have suggested that ‘character X is John’ and they’ve been wrong, but definitely there are some characters in my work who are based on real people that I had in mind when writing.
The tricky part is, how can you create an authentic character – who, ideally, lives and breathes beyond the page – without referencing your own experience? And really, you can’t. Your perspective is what makes your writing what it is, so you need to establish the balance of knowing what the character would do in a situation, and not what you, or someone you know, would do, or has done. And you can only do that through your understanding of people, which is informed by your experience.
This was more of a consideration with ‘One’, as it explores relationships, and how the character has responded to them. None of his responses were my own (I don’t think), but I can see how people might have got to certain points in their relationships, so it is, in part, built around the framework of my own history.
That’s concerning because people will read it, people will read into it, friends and ex-partners will see themselves, whether it’s there or not.
But the thing is, you have to be honest. You have to put your heart on the line, to a degree, and go with the pull of the story. At times, that’s going to be uncomfortable, but shared experience is what all good writing is. Even science fiction and fantasy stories work based on mutual understanding, on being able to capture a mood and re-create the emotion of the scene within the reader. They can only do that because you’ve shared something real through your words – and often, that ‘realness’ will be based in your own perspective.
It’s always a delicate balance, but you have to be honest, and put that out there, to create truly resonant work.