When Fiction Meets Real Life

Once in a while, authors hear from readers who can personally identify with something they’ve written. Perhaps a character who reminds them of their sibling or a plot that eerily mimics an experience they’ve had. Whatever it might be, the story brings two strangers into the same orbit for a brief moment in time, allowing a connection neither of them anticipated. Magical!

I enjoyed such a moment recently but I need to share some background first.

In my current manuscript, Forbidden Moon, I have intentionally included a person of color. As a white male, writing about a community of white shifters, I wanted to push my own boundaries a little and be more inclusive. Sounds straightforward, yes? Perhaps – if I knew how! I wanted to do it right, so I searched WordPress looking for advice and hit paydirt when I discovered a post entitled “So You Wanna Write a Black Person?”. Here’s a taste of what the author had to say.

“So, you’re a writer, huh? You, as a non-black author, want to write outside of your comfort zone and explore someone black, but you don’t know where to start…. Regardless of race, culture, sexual identity, or gender, we are all unique. However, there is a stigma in the writing community that writing black folks is hard. Writers cry out saying, I don’t wanna get it wrong! I don’t wanna offend….. I believe if you write any person with respect and empathy, you’ve done your job.”

Turns out, this is exactly what I was looking for! With suggestions from the post in mind, I went back to the very first paragraphs of the MS where I introduced the new Black character. There were numerous cringeworthy mistakes, but I set about rewriting and expanding the Prologue to correct them. In the end, I not only fixed the character, but I also improved the overall tone of the story. It felt good to have done it right and avoid offending my readers.

As work on the book continued, a desire to thank the writer of that post grew until it couldn’t be ignored. I wrote to her, explaining why and how her words helped me launch a Black character with confidence. When she responded with appreciation and interest, I sent her the Prologue and asked for some feedback. In those paragraphs, I introduced RJ and his mother, who was about to tell her son that she’d been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. By the end of the Prologue, she had died, leaving RJ to begin life on his own.

Now remember, not only was the post written three years ago, but we were total strangers. I knew nothing of her life or circumstances and had no idea my story would touch her personally. Her response floored me.

“I really enjoyed this. It hit a little close to home since my Mom is in stage four but it sounds like it will be a great book.”

I couldn’t believe what I was reading! What were the chances her real-life experience and my fictional story would have included the same sad circumstances? My heart went out to her of course, and with a final exchange of messages, she encouraged me to let her know when the book published.

I realize in the grand scheme of things this might not seem like such a big deal—but it was to me. I’m reminded again we live in a small world, that words have power, and that my stories will touch the lives of people I will never know. The entire episode left me encouraged and feeling as though my writing made a positive difference in some small way. I’m not sure it gets much better than that.



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5 responses to “When Fiction Meets Real Life”

  1. Sue Vincent Avatar

    That our words may touch people we will never know… and in ways we may not imagine… is something we are aware of on some level, but it is only when the reality of it hits home somehow that we truly begin to see the possible ramifications of that. As I am learning to do at the moment.

    1. Alexander Elliott Avatar
      Alexander Elliott

      Yes. I hope your illness has revealed how many lives you have touched and brought you great comfort. Words have great power, and you have weilded them well. Warm hugs, my friend!

      1. Sue Vincent Avatar

        I am being led to see… and am genuinely overwhelmed by the response.

  2. lynnefisher Avatar

    Hi, Alexander, checking in with you here. I’ve been wondering about this is the sense that I’m very aware of not having any black characters in my novels, especially in relation to my current WIP where I easily could have incorporated one or two.Like you, i thought, well what could be so hard about it? Then realising, actually, it could be tricky for the same ‘getting it wrong’ feelings you described. Well now, I feel better about it, so thank you :>)

    1. Alexander Elliott Avatar
      Alexander Elliott

      Hi Lynne! I’m glad you found it helpful. I suppose the real test will be reader feedback but I feel good about the character and how he fits in the story. I’m not much of a risk-taker, so this is stretching me a little bit.

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