Today, author Kate Moretti describes how she has taken tidbits of her life and spun them into fiction. What’s her simple answer? Because it’s interesting! Frankly, it’s one of the best explanations I’ve heard.
Please welcome Kate Moretti to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Spinning Facts Into My Fiction
by Kate Moretti
In high school, I took a creative writing course. The teacher had us keep two journals – one of fiction, poetry, short stories and the like, and the other of our daily lives. I quickly filled the fiction one, but the daily one bored me to death. For fun, I started making up stories about my days. Who would know? In my made-up journal, the cute boy talked to me, or didn’t. Or I fought with my mom, or didn’t. It didn’t matter. The fictional day was no less mundane than my regular day, but the attraction was inventing it. Whatever happened that day, I’d write the opposite. Sometimes I’d make my alter ego have a wonderful day if I was having a particularly crappy one, but that’s as fantastic as I got. When I would get the journal back on Monday, I would page through, looking for the teacher’s comments. She’d write “Nice!” or “Fun!” next to one of my invented activities, and I’d feel a sense of pride. Which parts of my pretend life most entertained her? Later, as an adult, I would puzzle over the purpose of it — pages and pages of these pointless little white lies.
As a reader, I’m no different. I’m attracted to different sides of the same coin. I seek out the character who could be me through the looking glass. I want to be able to submerge myself in the character, see their surroundings, or in some cases, superimpose my own life, my house, my husband, my kids into the novel. I want to imagine myself there.
It was no surprise then that my debut novel featured a character who was suspiciously familiar to my family and friends. Claire Barnes, the main character in Thought I Knew You, is so much like me that those closest to me naturally extrapolate these similarities. Claire’s mother must be my mom. Her best friend must be my best friend (well, okay the names are the same! But that was more of a hat-tip than anything), her husband, a bit of a cad, must be my husband. I even had someone ask me once if the love interest was an ex-boyfriend! What? No, listen people: Love triangles are just plain interesting, okay?
I think some writers, particularly in their first novel, who are learning how to develop characters, or expose unique fissures in relationships, will take large chunks of real life and add just enough fantasy to capture an audience. Just plain fact is boring. What did I do today? Wake up at five a.m., commute an hour to work, put in a long day, commute an hour home, pick up the kids, dinner, bath, bed… are you still awake? On the other hand, pure fantasy is unbelievable. If I said I hopped on a spaceship and saved the world from war mongering aliens, you’d disengage because you haven’t bought into it yet. You can’t see yourself there. Particularly if the saving all of humanity didn’t involve any emotional battles, just physical ones. The blur between what I can dream up and what I know from experience is the sweet spot where the most captivating stories are told.
This might mean that a conversation with my sister will show up in a novel, larger than life. Or a disagreement with my husband will be tweaked or expanded, assigned more meaning than it had at the time. But truthfully, if the main character in the book pivots her life on this argument and leaves her husband, does it mean I will do the same? The best parts of writing are taking the mundane activities of your day and spinning fiction from them. It doesn’t have to be outlandish fiction, with wild plots or flamboyant characters. Instead of slamming the door, going for a drive, and coming back for an apology and some make-up nookie, what if I had just kept driving? Ended up in California, started a new life, became a famous actress or witnessed a murder? Does this somehow express some hidden desire? Nah, but my hope is that you turn the page, read to the next chapter.
To me, I’m still writing those same journals from high school. I’m recording small pieces of my life, enhanced. Not necessarily better, but bolder–now in Technicolor! The conflicts are more dramatic, the resolutions are happier, the relationships more complicated. I’m still writing for my own enjoyment because I have stories in my head that need to be told. But unlike high school, I’m trying to entertain a slightly larger audience. To keep you turning the pages. As a writer, that’s all we ever want.
Kate Moretti is the author of the contemporary romance, Thought I Knew You. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and a dog. She’s worked in the pharmaceutical industry for ten years as a scientist, and has been an avid fiction reader her entire life.