Freudian slip

As far as I know, there is no one from my real life making appearances in my fiction. I do not deliberately make characters out of people I have known. I have sometimes made characters who have similar demographic information to me, or similar age-related issues. But these characters have been no easier to write than the characters who have nothing in common with me.

For example, one of my screenplays is about a post-college female job seeker. I myself have been a post-college female job seeker, but that character was just as difficult to write convincingly as the retired military man, child prodigy, or engineer centaur. I have written about people looking for jobs or finding happiness in making art. These are experiences I have had. But I also write about things that are not possible in the real world like man-eating shrubbery, which is definitely not based on anything I have experienced in my own life.

Having ruled out that I am deliberately putting myself or people from my real life into the characters in my writing, I still have to examine the possibility that it is happening unconsciously. I have certainly had the experience of reading a novel and thinking to myself “Gee Bob, your Freudian slip is showing.”  What if I am revealing more of myself through my characters than I intended to?


Like I explained in my post “The Creativity Hopper,” writing for me involves taking in everything around me, letting it bounce around inside my mind, then spitting it back out. This means that the filter that I look at the world through colors my perception of things. It also means that my own personal feelings about issues influence how ideas bounce around and stick to one another. What I think about those topics will also affect how I present them in my writing. That’s a lot of bias. I consider myself a postmodern writer and try to be honest about my bias. That doesn’t mean I’m in the business of writing autobiographical stuff. So the idea that my work would be transparent enough that others could glean information about me by reading my fiction is, in a word, terrifying.

I need to have faith that I am not subconsciously basing characters on real life people in order to preserve my calm and continue creating without being hampered by self-consciousness.

The truth is characters aren’t the most important part of my writing anyway. I don’t get too attached to them, and I don’t try to mold them into anything specific because my philosophy is to just make characters do whatever needs to happen next in the story. In that way I gravitate toward plot-based stories as opposed to what I’ve heard people describe as “character-driven” stories. When I’m reading a book I am more likely to ask “Then what happened?” rather than “What’s she like?” If the story I’ve written is good, characters won’t need to be described because they will show what they are like through the decisions they make. In that way, I hope to be more like the characters in my stories rather than making the characters more like me.

Muriel is the creator of 'Documinutes: 60 second documentaries' and a contributor to the podcast 'This Manic Mama.'

1 Comment

  • As a writer, my characters are often influenced by people, places, and situations I have seen or maybe heard of throughout my life. The stories I build around these elements are mostly fiction, but my local readers tend to believe that my books are actually true. With my last release, “Secrets & Lies,’ I practically had to break the story down to story to a reader who at once recognized the setting, but also just happen to know people who were similar to my characters and story. The setting was real, but the story and characters were completely fiction. It was flattering to know that the book read as if it were true, but it bothered me to know that some would not accept it as fiction. My writing group on Facebook helped me come to terms with the issue, but it is one that I keep in mind every time I start to write. Glad to know another perspective on the issue of writing fiction that reads like truth.

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