When I am out signing books or speaking to a group, I keep getting asked three questions over and over: What is your writing schedule (morning, afternoon, etc)? Where do you get your characters? and Is this a true story?
Behind the first question is a desire to know what sort of discipline I follow to get my work done. I think people are wondering whether I get writer’s block. I am an academic: I teach Spanish at Texas Christian University, better known as TCU, and I have plenty of responsibility that keeps me very busy. Most writers cannot hope to live from book sales, so we need a real “day job” to support our habit. College professors have summer off, if we want it, and a generous winter break between semesters. It’s a nice arrangement for me.
I get plenty of ideas for books and stories with alarming regularity and I am consequently left with more to write about than time to write it. So I write in summer and over winter break. Occasionally I do a little tidying up in the evenings after work. There is never enough time to write all I would like to. The upside is that I never have time for writer’s block. Another thing that helps is that I don’t block off a time of day in the summer and say, “Now I will write.” I go to the computer when and because I am driven to it and a have some free time.
As for characters, I have a great deal of fun writing about them. All writers get characters from life experience. They can’t be created out of nothing at all. But none of my characters are any person I know in particular. What happens sometimes is that a person I know inspires a character who shares some feature or characteristics of the model but who is also different in other ways. Sometimes the new character becomes the germ of a plot for a story or a book. At other times, I use people I have seen but do not know well and invent a life story for them and presto! There is another character. At times, when I already have some characters in mind but need friends, antagonists and/or foils for them, I will make somebody up with the characteristics I need. I use the Myers-Briggs personality inventory to make these characters coherent and believable. I don’t need that for the others.
Usually I don’t begin writing on a story or novel unless I have the main characters and some supporting ones sketched out, a strong sense of locale, and the main outlines of a plot. I know I’ve done a good job with the characters when they come alive on the page and make things happen I had not planned. If these elements have been imagined richly enough, the story begins to write itself.
The question “Is this a true story?” bothers me. I write fiction. That doesn’t mean the story isn’t real or that it doesn’t contain truth, just that the characters and story are my creation. Fiction can often tell truth more pointedly and effectively than non-fiction can. Ursula K. Le Guin said it beautifully in her introduction to the 1976 edition of The Left Hand of Darkness:
> Fiction writers desire to tell the truth: to know it, speak it, serve it. But they go about it in a peculiar and devious way, which consists in inventing persons, places, and events which never did and never will exist or occur, and telling about these fictions in detail and at length and with a great deal of emotion, and then when they are done writing down this pack of lies, they say, There! That’s the Truth!
> Fictional stories and novels address the deep-seated human longing for tales which we know did not happen, but which speak truth. They also deal with universal issues. Publishers and bookstores say they sell ten books of non-fiction for every book of fiction. This is a bad state of affairs, a symptom of and contributor to the dissolution of culture. So yes, my book is a true story, but it is fictional. You have asked the wrong question. The right question is: Is your book fiction or non-fiction?
My Angela series deals with responsible citizenship and what it can cost you. There will be three books, which follow the main character, Angela Fournier, through her 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. She has to face her parents’ divorce, which happens just before the series begins, a move to a new town, starting high school at an unfamiliar place, a school bully, a group of mean girls, and a hostile principal. She makes new friends and gets recognition as dancer, but when she and her friends uncover evidence of corruption at the school district administration, she begins to learn more than she ever envisioned. The first book, Angela 1: Starting Over is available at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid . The second book is scheduled to appear in the fall of this year (2013). And yes, it’s true and yes, it’s fiction.
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