In which I think about the difference between real-life and makey-uppy

‘Fiction makes sense and real life doesn’t.’ The very clever and lovely Julie Cohen has just announced that to me out of my computer (via Writers’ Web TV – she doesn’t actually live in my computer, I don’t think). And that thought set off a little ping inside my brain because I’ve been thinking about that very question of the distinction between real life and makey-uppy a lot of late.

I’m currently working with my delightful new editor on the final tweaks to Sweet Nothing, which, barring last minute delays, will be out in the world next month. And I’m starting to think seriously, for the first time, about the fact that people might read it. Realistically, as it’s a debut novel by a total unknown a high percentage of the people who read it will be friends or acquaintances. And at least some of those people are going to read my story of a bickery and weirdly dysfunctional relationship between a nerdy thirty-something year old man and an artsy-literary woman, and they’re are going to look at myself and EngineerBoy and they’re going to make a fairly obvious assumption about where the inspiration for those two characters came from.

And when they do that I will huff and puff, and get offended and bang on about how it’s obviously fiction and it’s not based on real life, and I shall probably say that it’s shows a lack of imagination to assume such a lack of imagination on the part of the writer. And when I react like that I shall be at least half right.

But actually it’s a little bit more complicated than that. Those two characters absolutely aren’t based on EngineerBoy and me. I can’t, personally, think of anything more skin crawling than consciously and intentionally typing out the details of your most intimate relationships and then sending them to a beta reader and an editor and then out into the world. I feel faintly exposed just typing the notion onto this blog. Developing and writing those characters, I didn’t start by thinking about any real people. They, and all the characters, are absolutely the product of my imagination.

However, my imagination is absolutely the product of my environment. What I imagine about how relationships work is entirely borne out of my own relationships. All the characters I write are products of my overcrowded, butterfly brain. It’s all completely made up, but I can only make-up what I can make up and that is bounded by the life I’ve lived and the people I know. So it’s kind of a circular problem. The characters I write and the stories I tell are definitely made up and definitely aren’t based on real life, but they’re made up out of my imagination, which is sculpted and defined by my real life, and round and round and round we go.

So, if you are so kind as to read Sweet Nothing when it comes out and you think you recognise a person or a place or an incident, don’t be scared – I promise that it isn’t you, or at least, if it is, I don’t know that it is, so there’s no need to feel weird. And here end my random writerly musings. I shall return soon, when hopefully Michael Gove will have annoyed me in a new and interesting way and I’ll be able to get a proper rant going. I’ve not had one of them for a while…


Author: Alison May

Writer. Creative writing teacher. Freelance trainer in the voluntary sector. Anything to avoid getting a real job... Aiming to have one of the most eclectic blogs around, because being interested in just one thing suggests a serious breakdown in curiousity.

3 thoughts on “In which I think about the difference between real-life and makey-uppy”

  1. It’s a tad scary, isn’t it? I’m expecting judgements to be made, and people may look at me differently, but it’s as you say – it’s fiction. It’s made up. What I hope is those friends and family reading the book become so involved with the story and characters, they’ll forget the book’s written by someone they know 🙂


  2. You make your characters up? Mine live in my head, they just appear and won’t go away until I’ve written their story. Bloomin’ annoying especially as they usually do it when I’m midway through writing the novel before.
    Now that those contracts are signed … the thought of real people reading our books is v scary.


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