What will they think of me?

Do you ever worry what people close to you might think of you if you write certain things into your novel? I do.

eye-catcher-74182-pixabayA few months ago I circulated Singled Out to a small group of Beta Readers. On returning with his feedback, one reader said, with a wry smile, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at you the same way again, Julie.’

I don’t think he meant anything by it – in his case it was more tongue-in-cheek. It’s just that Singled Out does contain a few shall we say, edgy moments and a bit of shall we say, earthy language, and I think they took him by… surprise. But that’s because I’ve chosen to write psychological rather than chick lit or aga saga; deadly nightshade, not sunbeams and butterflies.

His reaction though begged the question, will others who read this feel the same way and if they do, how do I feel about that? Readers who don’t know me will take it all at face value, since writers write about all sorts of things and readers buy what they enjoy. But what about friends and family? And for me, wearing a businesswoman’s hat as well as a writer’s hat, what about my professional marketing clients? Should I be concerned what they will make of it?

So yes, if not a worry, it is certainly a concern.

Pale faced, my Beta Reader went on to ask, in a way which suggested he might not actually want to know the answer, if I was writing from experience. I told him, I’d been on one or two singles holidays so, yes, I was writing from experience. ‘Not that’, he said. ‘The— oh, you know what I mean’.

Ah. Yes. But no. What he’s talking about, those edgier plot moments, it’s a No. I wasn’t writing from experience. It was all from imagination – well, almost all. Mostly. Anyway, I thanked him for his concern and told him he could stop worrying.

Of course one doesn’t have to experience things in order to write them into a story. I can describe a dead body without ever having seen one; a cocaine hit without ever having been near a gram of the stuff; a deviant sexual activity without ever having so deviated; or a grizzly crime without ever having been a victim of it – or a perpetrator for that matter. There are always people who know people who can help with credible detail and failing that, there’s a world of Googleknowledge to draw on. If writers couldn’t do this, there’d be far more dull and insipid novels around and far fewer murder mysteries, heart-stopping thrillers and psycho-dramas.

But whether I’m writing wholly or partially or not at all from experience, I chose to write a gritty psychological story where bad stuff happens and the mood is at times raw and unsettling. Apart from anything else, I confess it’s weirdly fun to get out of my workaday existence and alter-ego this kind of material.

So if any clients, close friends or family are reading this – or in future if any clients, close friends or family read this novice writer’s first attempt at an unsettling psychological story – I hope you will all forgive the fact that I’ve taken a big step away from my comfortably suburban private life and my conscientiously professional business life and gone somewhere very different for my new writing life…

I just hope it doesn’t offend you, or disturb you, or make you look askance at me.

19 thoughts on “What will they think of me?

  1. I agree that close friends and family must take you as you are, Julie, even if it comes as a surprise. No one can advise you, though, as to the effect on your business life of sexually detailed and/or psychologically startling passages. How stuffy are your marketing clients? Are you willing to lose a few to more “proper”-seeming competitors? Would it be better to publish under a pseudonym? I raise these questions because if I had had such material to send out into the world while I was still practicing law, I wouldn’t have wanted my clients to know it, lest they be unsettled by it (as many of them would have been), and then ask to have me taken off their cases.

    1. You make some good points, although marketing services is a little different from legal, so perhaps it’s less crucial. I am fortunate in having great relationships with clients who seem to me to be not in the least stuffy. But I guess you never know. Food for thought, Nina, I thank you.

  2. Interesting thoughts Jools. I’m sure every fiction writer must use a mixture of their own experiences, other people’s experience, other works of art/fiction and their own imagination.

    Whilst one’s own experience might range from having done the act described, it could also include visiting a place and gathering detail as you have in Turkey.

    Other people’s experience might include drawing from people we know, either in actions, looks or personality traits or from people we read about in the newspapers etc.

    Inspiration might also come from films, paintings, other novels or even a statue.

    And we all use our imagination not only to invent scenes but also to pull these other elements together to form our own unique novels.

    If we only wrote what we know in a strict sense, we’d never get beyond autobiography.

    The question is: what bits of a novel has the author experienced? And that’s where the discomfort can set in. I had a similar reaction to you from someone who read an early draft of my novel – ‘I’ll never look at you in the same light again,’ he said. In cases of extreme concern, professional embarrassment or protecting one’s sources of inspiration, we can always use a nombre de pluma.

    1. You’re right about drawing from a combination of experience, research and admiration and using all these things in combination – I’ve done exactly that. But it’s the material likely to raise eyebrows that concerns me – and not so much that it comes from experience, research or imagination, but more the language, subject matter and content. I still have some thinking to do on this one.

  3. I know what you mean, it was what put me off writing sex scenes for so long. I heard it once said that writing a sex scene not only tells people that you think about it, but what you think about it – and that’s true.

    I’ve written a few now and don’t care who sees them. I’ve even put one on my blog, though password protected so the innocent don’t accidentally find it.

    1. That’s a very thought provoking point although I’m not sure I agree. Writing a sex scene is all about the character, not the writer. If we’re going to be able to write about characters who aren’t exactly like us, the writers, we have to be able to imagine things we might never do, places we might never go and people we might never know. If we don’t feel free enough to do this, for fear of judgement, then we diminish and even limit our own creativity.

      1. Agree completly 🙂 Realising that is why I have no problem writing sex scenes now and have done a few which are varied in their tone and style.

        1. I’m still at that stage where writing any kind of a scene is a new experience – every time’s a first time, as it were. I wonder if I will ever feel totally comfortable about any particularly extreme or grizzly episode in a story – I suspect I may always have to quell my worries about what people might think.

          1. It’s a learning process. I think anywhere that you are writing taboo subjects (sex, violence, even swearing) it’s understandable to be apprehensive about writing them. The important thing is the context, not the content 🙂

            Good luck with your own learning process!

  4. I had a comparable problem – and I was writing memoir, the story of my middle-aged gap year. My mentor told me to write about things you couldn’t see on the telly, things that are unlikely to have happened to anyone else. You mean I should write about the things I haven’t told my daughters? Exactly, he said.

    Oh heck. I had to sit them down and tell them about the man with the gun in Lucknow. But, once they knew, it was fine – and it was such fun to write because there was nothing to hide any more.

    Having said that, I’m very careful what personal information I share. So I make no secret of being widowed and bringing up teenagers by myself, but that it my daughters’ story as much as it is mine, and so not for me to tell alone. I find it funny that people think they know me from the memoirs when there’s so much I haven’t told them!

    1. Oh, that’s interesting. Your mentor was surely right, that what makes your book interesting are the things that you won’t see or hear about on the TV. Well done for being bold enough to go with it. I too am careful about personal information; I’m writing fiction, not memoir after all. There may be places, scenarios or people whose features, qualities or characteristics find their way into my writing, but I’m not writing about me.

  5. The hardest part was explaining to close friends and family members that just because I wrote a character saying or doing something, it didn’t mean I felt that way myself. Having read my book, you are aware that there are a few scenes and one or two characters that aren’t that pleasant. All came from my imagination and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone.
    Part of the problem is that we are used to hiding our thoughts. We often think weird, funny, strange thoughts, and occasionally our internal monologue can bring up some pretty terrible scenarios, things that horrify ourselves when they appear in our imagination, but it doesn’t mean that we would act on them given the chance. Writing gives other people a peak into that most intimate part of ourselves and for many who have known us for years that peak can be surprising or even shocking.

    1. I understand exactly where you’re coming from vis a vis your own work and I will have a similar job to do when I let mine escape into the hands of my nearest and dearest.

      You make a really good point about hidden thoughts too, and I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes our own thoughts shock or horrify us, but letting those thoughts drift through our minds is a million miles from executing them, or being that monstrous person. They’re just thoughts. I’d be surprised if everyone didn’t have their own internal libraries of thought-horrors. It’s not just the nightmare thoughts either, it’s those more mundane moments of selfishness, jealousy, anger, weird wish-fulfilment, morbid speculation and more that bubble up to the surface and are pushed back down again by our otherwise rational, well-balanced minds. And you don’t have to go to a psychological or dystopian drama for disturbing internal monologues – they pop up all over the place, reassuring the average reader who is also no doubt prodded by thoughts they don’t think they should have, that they’re perfectly ‘normal’.

  6. My dear lady why worry at all what they think. You have written something that will soon be published for all to read. If your people ever said anything to you how about telling them how you will react when you see their book. Oh wait, that’s right they have not done so and most likely never will. Worry not my dear you have done so well in the fact you have some serious writing accomplishments surely they would be jealous. Carry on as there are few people that write as all as you do.

    1. I think the secret is to be prepared to be fearless, to have enough confidence in your own voice that you don’t need the ‘approval’ of others… But fearlessness and confidence don’t come easily to most of us. I guess we have to keep practicing. Thanks for following me – I’m intrigued by your blog too.

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