Writing About Characters Past
I picked up a five-day-old newspaper this afternoon and found myself drawn to a lifestyle column about an artist who had long died. The writer shared how she first met this painter and his impact on her. I won’t quote what she said–that would be giving it away–but I was surprised how, after reading the article, I concluded that the artist must have been a really important figure in the writer’s life.
She talked about him in that personal tone one usually reserves for a boyfriend or a lover. I was amazed with the writer’s frankness and courage to put her strong feelings down on paper and have the entire country read it. I could be wrong; I could be reading too much into what she had to say, but it also got me to thinking about how writing about other people affects their lives and their privacy, and how they have no choice in the matter.
How many of us would want to be the inspiration for a character in a novel or a short story? Leila, my good friend, asked me once to make her a character in my next fiction, and I promised I would. Doesn’t it feel heartwarming to inspire a story’s character?
But on the other side of the fence, how would bad exes feel if you write them into your storyline, especially if they’re the terrible, philandering ones? Moreover, what would their children and their current partners feel? There’s power in the pen, and one can immortalize an evil, manipulative former in a book. But several years down the road, when wounds have healed and bad memories are forgotten, the books are out there in public. Just imagine how a grown-up child would react, knowing a father’s secret past from a book.
Writing about one’s life, whether as fiction or nonfiction, can be therapeutic. But if it opens a can of worms for other people, is it worth it?