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Not What I Intended at All

So a friend read a draft of a story I’m working on, and his reaction was "meh." That’s okay. Not only was it a draft, but I wanted an opinion, not a compliment. Still, he was kinda distant afterward, and for several days when I saw him he remained quiet, answering questions with one word responses. Finally I pinned him down and said, “Hey, what’s going on here?”

“I just didn’t realize that’s how you felt about me.”

Turns out he thought HE was in the story. It is set in here in Portland, and uses a number of thinly-disguised real locations. One of these locations happens to be a cafe he frequents, and he assumed a character in the story was him because the character hangs out in the same cafe.


The character and the real guy are, in fact, nothing alike. Not in appearance, mannerisms, personality. But they both hang in the same place, and something about the context in which he found the character made him think, “That guy is me, and since the character is an oaf, Bill must think I’m an oaf!”

I think nothing of the sort.

I'm not reinventing the wheel when I write. Like most writers I know, I do use the traits of real people in my characters. But I never create a character that is based entirely on a real person. I fit traits together like puzzle pieces. A nose here, a fear of spiders there, mixed with a lot of made up stuff (probably confabulated from a lifetime of observations of real people). And, as it happens, in the story in question, I do inject one of my friend's traits into one of the characters, though a completely different character from the one he focused on.

I’m far from the only writer this sort of thing has happened to, but this the first time for me that a friend was so certain that no only did he see himself, but that I was judging him via fiction.

Something to think about. 

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I think if someone sees themself in a work of fiction not based on them, it must be effective writing.

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Thanks, Dale

I certainly hope so. But, of course, there's also the matter of how place affects the way we sees ourselves. One thing I've been wondering, too, is if I'd said or done something that gave my friend pause already. Then he sees a character in my piece in a familiar setting and thinks, "This proves what I've been worried about all along."

That makes is less a matter of the writing then of how I've tended to my friendship. The story and the writing have become a piece of that now, but not the only piece.