Art Imitating Life

As a reader I often wonder how much of a story is from the writer’s life in some way. How much do they take from their own experience? Are characters based, however loosely, on people they’ve met or actually know. As I’ve mentioned here before, I often create my characters from real-life models. I take a basic feature of someone I know or have encountered and turn it over in my mind until I have a unique character for my story, but none of the characters I’ve created are true-to-form copies of actual people. It is fiction after all.

In terms of my life, I do take elements from it and infuse it into the story. Obviously, I change or enhance things to give them the fictional flair that make them more interesting. My latest novel, The Fire Within, is one of the most personal stories I’ve ever written because the main character, like myself, is a runner. The few moments in the story when he’s running is almost a direct quote from my life. The feelings and observations are not too far from how I feel when I’m running. In fact, many of the story lines were developed when I was on a long run and had plenty of uninterrupted time to think about the book.

While the book is about a runner, there are actually only a few scenes where he’s running in the story. After all, I want the story to have mass appeal, and as surprising at it is to me, only a small niche of folks would likely read a story dedicated completely to running. I wouldn’t even describe the book as being about a runner; I’d more likely describe it as a story about a boy striving for his dreams and overcoming some major obstacles to achieve them. I’d also describe it as a love story. Running is just on the periphery of the story – a common thread that connects all of the pieces in the 20 years covered by the novel.

Beyond the running parts, I also included parts of my own childhood and adolescence in the novel – changed to protect the innocent, of course. There’s a scene where the main character attends his eighth-grade dance, which is very similar to my own experience albeit eight years later than my time.

It’s impossible for an author to avoid leaving his DNA in a story. We all relate to the world based on our own experiences, so it’s only natural that we tell stories with these experiences in mind. In many ways, we get the opportunity to re-frame the story from a different perspective or change it in subtle ways that we wished it had played out in real life. It’s fun, and I think it’s what makes every story unique.

Nothing I write will escape the pull of my life experiences. Even the new project I started, which is science fiction, will have the imprint of the past four decades of my life. After all, art often imitates life.

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