Sunday, 20 July 2014

The truth hurts (but it's friends I'm worried about!)

I live in an extraordinary part of Australia brimming with a motley collection of hippies, yuppies, rednecks and bogans. 

There are lots of single parents, successful musos and artists, a smattering of celebrities, too many cashed-up types, a cluster of the poor and disadvantaged, a bunch of ordinary mums and dads, one or two psychopaths, and some genuinely good sorts.

It really is a magnificent melting pot and, for a regional area, a unique one at that. Which is why it would make great fodder for a crime novel.

So why, then, have I NEVER set a single book in this area? What's that about? 

Not knowing the answer to that question (and not really asking it of myself), I decided to set my latest Ghostwriter Mystery #6 (my 8th book) in this area. Of course, I didn't call it Goonengerry. I'm not a complete idiot. I've given it a fictional name, and I've just begun to create a collection of characters who vaguely resemble the people that I know. After all, why not? It'll be fun to write and brimming with some of the most honest characters of Roxy's life.

Er, not so fast.
As I began creating my characters, I started to worry. Then I began to panic. Normally, when pumping a story with life, I pluck a name out of thin air, add some interesting or portent hair colour, body type and personality flaws, then before you know it, I've got my victim or villain, suspect or passer by.

80,000 words later, it's done and dusted and I've had one hell of a ride.

Not this time. 
This time I am realising that creating characters out of thin air is so much easier, and a hell of a lot safer, than trying to hide real people in a pretend universe.

I really, really want to use that self-righteous hippie who pretends to be spiritual but is tediously self-obsessed, those arrogant yuppies who wish they were spiritual but can't see beyond their shiny BMW, that neurotic guitarist and his snotty-nosed wife, those lovely farmer folk and the sweet family who live next door, the local newspaper guy whose arrogance is baffling, the naive young groupies who are headed for a fall, and the caring community types who rarely get a gong but deserve so much more.

So many colourful characters, so little wordspace! They live and breathe around me, and I want them to live and breathe in my next novel.

The thin, true line
Yet the brakes have gone on. Big time. I realise now, 10,000 words in, that I am treading a very fine and dangerous line. It's tempting to not just borrow from the people around me, but to recreate them right down to the colour of their clothes and the swing of their hair. They do it so well, I want to reflect that in this novel.

Yet I can not. It's a small town, after all. And the last thing anyone needs (least of all my friends, neighbours and family) is to recognise themselves in my next novel.

For the first time in my fictional career, I really understand why all good books begin with a qualifier:
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Yet in this case, it may be the whitest of lies. Unless I back up a bit, that is.

I want my characters to be real, but I don't want to hurt anyone (at least not in real life), nor do I want to ostracise the people around me and make life difficult for my hubby and boys who must live and breathe in this community.

Will one of my characters make it tricky next time we go to the local shop? 

Will anyone even notice?

It's a conundrum that I am still working out. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, how you (or the authors you admire) manage to breathe life into characters without sucking the life blood out of the people you (they) love. Send me an email or jot a comment below.

In the meantime, happy reading everyone (and may you never see yourself in a novel, at least not in a bad light!)

xo Christina

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