Monday, August 27, 2007

Can You Relate?

For the past couple of weeks, a group of half a dozen Barbour twenty-something employees invade the conference room next to my office during the lunch hour and watch old reruns of the television show, The Office. This blog post is neither an endorsement or a critique of this particular program. I've never really gotten into the series myself, but the Barbour "kids" hoot and holler and carry on all lunch hour.

What's the fascination? Don't they get enough of office life before and after lunch without immersing themselves in fictitious office relationships while they eat their Wendy's value meal? Then again, maybe the reason they are laughing so hard has to do with the fact that they are seeing us real-life Barbour employees portrayed in the shenanigans of the TV's Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company office crew.

Hum, I wonder which character I represent in their minds? I probably don't want to know.

When I stop to think about it, though, I can't very well criticize my fellow employees for their entertainment choices when I consider the kinds of books I choose to read for pleasure. My very favorite reads feature familiar settings and characters who remind me of family, friends, or folks who, in their own quirky way, irritate me to no end.

A few years ago, my mother told me of a new (ABA) book written by a gal from my hometown of Yukon, Oklahoma. According to a few of the irate homefolks, this former Okie had only thinly disquised the real-life town and residents in her novel. I ordered a copy immediately and read it in one sitting--not because it was any great work of literature, but because I was THERE. I knew these characters. Really and truly. And I laughed and laughed my way through the entire story (although I'm not sure it was meant to be a comedy).

I'm not recommending authors adopt her brutal approach to writing fiction that reflects real life, but I do think there is great value in writing a story that emotionally connects with readers. To do this, the reader must be able to relate her real-life experience to the fictional one you are creating.

In your present WIP, what one trait of your main character can you most relate to in your own experience?


Mary Connealy said...

I don't think I'll say what quality, because what I'm writing right now is really close to home. But man, some of this pinches. I'm not sure if I'm handling the me...important subject well, but I'm trying, and revising and I wonder if anyone will see it and see themselves or me.
In my cozy mysteries, I've tried to draw from my small hometowns, but mainly in the way the town is laid-out, not so much in people.
I hope there's no 'irate' awaiting me.

Janice Thompson said...

You would have to ask! My WIP (a Heartsong set in the Amish country) is about a girl who runs away from her problems. Literally. Yeah, it's true. I'm a lot like her. I visited the Amish country last spring (my sister lives in Pennsylvania), and took a lot of photos! We also did a lot of shopping, so I "gleaned" as much as possible for my story. Of course, I'm really from Texas. There's not a hint of anything southern in this book, which is unusual for me!

Jess said...

Yep, I can relate to The Office. I've worked in some really goofy places and these characters remind me of some of the people I've worked with. Too funny and too true.

I love quirky characters--when they're consistently quirky. In my book, The Groom Wore Blue Suede Shoes, I had a wonderfully quirky character. Unfortunately, she was the heroine's mom and she stole the show...I mean, the book, along with her grandson. Many times my secondary characters seem stronger and more appealing than the hero or heroine.

Wonder why? Because the heroine is patterned too much after me? Mmmmm, something to think about here. Thanks!

Kristy Dykes said...

Great post! Made me think!

Horace said, “Mutato nomine, de te fabula narrator." It means, "Change the name, and the story is told of yourself."

I think all writers use some bio material in at least some of their books. It just comes out.

Vickie said...

As a native Oklahoman, it's great to know there's an Okie on the Barbour staff. :)

I don't think we can help putting little bits and pieces of the people we know in our books. We are partially a product of who we know. I told my youngest son that his personality had changed some since coming to our new church two years ago. He has a very boisterous youth pastor, and my quiet sixteen-year-old is getting louder and responding to certain things just as I've seen his youth pastor do. It spurred me to write a skit about striving to be just like someone you admire instead of being the person God wants you to be. The youth are performing it at Christmastime. I'm just thankful my son is modeling a man of God.

lisa lickel said...

The Office! kids told me about that, then my hubby watched it with them a couple of times. Really too close to my past experiences in various secretarial positions. My current WIP's female antagonist is my own age, although she had kids a couple of years younger than I did, so her son is already married, a teacher and expecting, while my older son is just getting married and my younger son is planning to become a teacher. I've never written in a character who's just my own age now, so it's interesting.
Lisa Lickel

Janelle said...

Wow. I could rewrite a good deal of what Mary and Janice said right here for my own post. I'm rewriting a scene for the third time because I just can't get it right. And I can't get it right because I don't want to bleed on my pages. But I'm working on it. And running? Oh, yeah. My wip is called Runaway Grace.

Beth Loughner said...

qThis is a great topic. There is a lot of myself in the characters, not just the heroine, but the hero and some of the secondary characters. The weird stuff (eating potato chips with ketchup) shows up from time to time, too. My current WIP has the heroine doing exactly opposite of what I like to do. The heroine is pretty rigid and won't even go to a party unless there is a serious, common purpose such a graduation or retirement celebration. But just to party??? No way!

Now me, on the other hand, I like to throw a party just because. Last year, I bid on a 5-piece "Big Band" gig on our local PBS station. When I won, my husband asked me exactly what I thought I would do with a band. Have a party, of course. So many asked what the occasion was and couldn't understand the lack of an organized purpose...even though I did have it on Veteran's Day. There doesn't have to be a real purpose other than having fun with family and friends.

For anyone interested, there are pixs from this party on my website at under the photos link: go to the personal album. By the way, the band grew to a 17-piece (without an extra charge) because the whole crew wanted to come to the party. What fun!

See, this is great novel material.


Jennifer Johnson said...

Mine is that my gal says everything she's thinking before she thinks about whether or not she should say it. hahaha I'm SO known for that. :)