Have Any Of You Lost Friends By Including Them In Your Fiction?

I haven’t, mainly because I don’t think I ever have included friends, relatives, or acquaintances in any of my work. Any of you who’ve read my works and seen yourselves in them are wrong and should consider speaking to a therapist who specializes in narcissists. Don’t worry. I know a guy.

So I never have had to tell an outraged, or worse, insufferably preening social contact that they shouldn’t take it so seriously. “It’s just fiction, after all. Don’t make a big deal out of it.” Nor have I had some of them replay, “What do you mean ‘It’s just fiction’? That could be the image the world has of me until the sun goes dark, thanks to you, jerk!”

Saying “I (and you) should be so lucky” probably won’t mollify, so I was wondering what might in that situation. A better, or at least more accurate, response would be “Of course that’s not you, any more than the MacBeth of Shakespeare is the historical King MacBeth of Scotland.”

As Northrop Frye put it:

We can understand though how the poet got his reputation as a kind of licensed liar. The word poet itself means liar in some languages, and the words we use in literary criticism–fable, fiction, myth–have all come to mean something we can’t believe. Some parents in Victorian times wouldn’t let their children read novels because they weren’t “true”. But not many reasonable people today would deny that the poet is entitled to change whatever he likes when he uses a theme from history or real life. The reason why was explained long ago by Aristotle. The historian makes specific and particular statements, such as, “The battle of Hastings was fought in 1066.” Consequently he’s judged by the truth or falsehood of what he says–either there was such a battle or there wasn’t, and if there was he’s got the date either right or wrong. But the poet, Aristotle says, never makes any real statements at all, certainly no particular or specific ones. The poet’s job is not to tell you what happened, but what happens: not what did take place, but the kind of thing that always does take place. He gives you the typical, recurring, or what Aristotle calls universal event. You wouldn’t go to MacBeth to learn about the history of Scotland–you go to it to learn what a man feels like after he’s gained a kingdom and lost his soul. When you meet such a character as Micawber in Dickens, you don’t feel that there must have been a man Dickens knew who was exactly like this: you feel that there’s a bit of Micawber in almost everybody you know, including yourself.

So if someone approaches you, the writer, saying “How dare you include me in your book”, read them this passage and say, “It’s not really you. I just included the part of you that’s also a part of everybody, the universal you.” If the person remains upset and cries, “But that image of me will outlive me!”, reply that their real complaint is not with you, but rather with death and time.

That should cool them off.

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