Is there any true fiction? I would venture to say that the answer is no. As a writer, I draw upon my own experiences, observations, and research. Most of my characters have traits that I have observed in others or myself. No, I don’t base my characters on people I know, but I do use traits, behaviors, attitudes, and speech from real life and real people.
I have started keeping a notebook. When I see something out of the ordinary, something puzzling, or something extraordinarily mundane, I write it down. When I hear something stupid, something funny, something shocking, something touching, or something clever, I write it down. Since I have started writing, I notice details about everyone, everything and everywhere. If it catches my attention, I write it down. I may not use it, but then again I might.
Two summers ago, I volunteered at a church camp with my teenage children. One little boy caught our attention. At five Sam was clearly an individual. He was not an easy child, but he was (and still is) a strong willed child. My dear sixteen year-old daughter was everyone’s favorite counselor, the kids loved her and the adults loved her. With her energy and positive no-nonsense attitude, she kept the kids entertained and in check, including our little five year old rebel. One afternoon my daughter quietly approached me. She wanted to share a special experience with me. I followed her to the meadow and there was our little Sam tiptoeing across the field. From time to time he stopped. And then he would start again. What was he up to? He was stalking and capturing dragonflies.
From that summer camp experience, I have incorporated bits and pieces of my daughter’s raw talent for working with both children and adults into characters that populate my stories. I have every intention of using the scene of a little boy tiptoeing through a meadow stalking and capturing dragonflies. In fact, I know which book this scene will appear in, and I know which character will be the dragonfly hunter. Have I written a word of the book yet, no. At this point the book only exists as an idea, an intention, but the scene exists in my memory and in my notebook.
Will the book be about a talented young counselor and a quirky camper? No. But I do use real life to construct my fiction. One, it has the ring of truth and authenticity. Two, for me there is no need to create fiction that is 100% fiction. These days no one is safe. If you say or do something I find remotely interesting, your actions or words will become a note in my notebook.