You can be anything you want to be
Just turn yourself into anything you think that you could ever be
Be free with your tempo, be free, be free
Surrender your ego, be free, be free to yourself (Innuendo – Queen)
Here I am, back with a new post that I felt the need to write after a WhatsApp conversation with my little sister, who is also a writer. Don’t be afraid, the new section about my trip in the US will also have more entries soon. Anyway, after that wonderful chat with her, in which we talked in particular about the new story that she is writing, several questions started popping into my head regarding what a writer can and should do.
To clarify what my thoughts were, and to allow you to be able to answer and express your opinion, I will try to quickly explain the situation. Claudia is writing a story inspired by real facts, but her writing is fictional; the only real things are the characters, who absolutely represent real people. The problem now is that someone who knows these actual people and browsed the first draft of the story complained about possible reactions to the future novel. This person thinks that the descendants of the characters could be offended by the descriptions of their attitude and actions included in the book. Of course, the author is also facing another problem, related to our background: we have always been told that it is wrong to speak ill of the dead, and several of the people who inspired the characters have passed away.
I have my own opinion about this last point, and I want to make it clear here, because it is a subject that always upsets me when we talk about it with my family: I never understood the ideas of “not speaking ill of the dead,” and of “good soul” (a dead person is called “good soul” every time someone talks about him, TN). In my opinion, the fact of being dead neither makes a person better nor cancels her mistakes. Actually, after death is exactly when a person should face all that: if a person became good just by dying, the whole structure of the Christian faith would be invalidated — what would be, in fact, the point of believing in Hell and Purgatory? Therefore, we should talk about people based on what we know about them, regardless of whether they are alive or dead.
That said, the actual core of this post is different: how far should a writer go when writing about real people and events? Is it fair to risk hurting someone’s feelings if the real characters or their relatives can recognise the reference? What is the debt that an artist has towards art and society? Several of my readers are writers, I know that for sure, and I assume they found themselves facing these dilemmas. I myself write short stories, and I do it for myself, to experience a catharsis that allows me to get over my problems. Obviously, I write about real things or, about what happens to me or what I am feeling inside. For this reason, several people could recognise themselves in characters and facts described. In my case, I am not planning to publish my writing but if I changed my mind, I would face the same dilemma: should I be true to myself and my possible talent as a writer? Or should I be true to Art, assuming that there an art to my writing? Should I be true to a good character who deserves to be celebrated, or to a bad one whose anonymity should be preserved?
In my opinion, a writer should always be true to himself and to his talent. Everyone puts his experiences in his writing, and creates his own characters, taking inspiration from similar people that he meets; it is indeed that contact, together with the analysis of human nature, what helps creating good credible descriptions. As Miss Marple would say:
Human nature is always interesting, Sir Henry. And it’s curious to see how certain types always tend to act in exactly the same way. (The thirteen problems – A. Christie)
I am making a call here to the writers I know, and I am asking for their opinion: Claudia, of course, who is facing this problem right now with her new creation, but also Lluís, who, on the contrary, is an historian, and doesn’t need to mask his characters in the book to avoid their recognition. Also in this case, I think, it would be interesting to see the approach of the writer to the character. Anyway, I hope that anyone, reader or writer, professional or amateur, will take part on this debate. I am also willing to translate this post in more languages if needed.