When I was young, a commercial for a hair coloring product often ran on TV. In it, a woman smiled coyly at the camera while showing off her luxurious blonde hair. The slogan for the campaign was, “Does she, or doesn’t she?” Meaning does she color her hair or not? At that time, women didn’t admit they bleached or dyed their hair, so of course they would want a coloring solution that gave every impression their hair was natural. That product promised to deliver.
When I began studying the craft of writing, I got the impression novels should be written so that they came across as natural. The storyline, characters, their actions and dialogue should all be realistic. It sounded reasonable, so I took the suggestion to heart.
I didn’t know at that time that many authors fictionalize their lives in novels. I’m not talking about adding elements of their knowledge and experience, such as a lawyer penning legal thrillers or a law enforcement officer writing a crime novel. Or even a resident of Savannah setting a story in that city. We all know authors do that. Some authors, however, fictionalize events from their personal lives: the breakup of their marriage, the story of their romance with their eventual spouse, their parents epic love story in the midst of war, etc, changing the names and places, but keeping the rest of the details intact.
Consequently, I received a few comments from judges and other readers who implied a few of my stories, whether short or full length, were fictionalizations of my life. While you will find elements from my history and experience slipped into stories—that’s how I write those beautiful settings—the plots themselves are pure fiction. I wasn’t an orphan raised by her loving aunt who fell for a married man after surviving a carjacking (Learning to Live Again.) Nor did I move to the South Carolina coast to start a new life after having a heart attack as Adam did in Fall in Eden. Have you read my short story “Moonbow”? I wasn’t the young Christian college graduate faced with the prospect of moving home where everyone knew her as the sinner she once had been. But many other Christians have been placed in that position and wondered whether they could have been an effective witness.
And presenting a plausible situation, along with scriptural principles to mull over, is the reason I strive for realism in my stories.
So if anyone wonders, “does she or doesn’t she” write about her life, the answer is no, I don’t. I just write about life—the Christian life—in general.