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Reflections of a working writer and reader



All Characters are Entirely Fictitious

It usually goes something like this:

All characters in this publication are entirely fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

And it’s nearly always a lie. Robert Liddell suggests that the passage deceives nobody and would be no protection in a libel action, and, he continues, one must suppose that the common explanation is the true one: ‘it is inserted by publishers so that illiterate booksellers’ assistants may more easily be able to distinguish fiction from biography, memoirs and the like.’

To muddy the waters even further, in recent years some people have declared that they are willing to pay to be written into this or that popular writers’ novels. And some writers have agreed to do this, accepting money for their favourite charity as payment. It seems that some among us are not satisfied by having both a ‘real’ life and a virtual life on the world-wide-web, but are thirsty for more and looking for further identity in some kind of fictional existence.

I suppose these people must recognize that life and art are quite different things, and that existence in one is strangely different to existence in the other? E.M. Forster in Aspect of the Novel, points out how free fictional characters are from work, and what a disproportionate amount of time they devote to love.

I can’t help recalling the words of Guy de Maupassant, when talking about fictional character:

. . . whether we are describing a king, an assasin, a thief, an honest man, a prostitute, a nun, a young girl, or a stall-holder in the market, it is always ourselves that we are describing, for we are obliged to ask ourselves the following question: ‘If I was a king, an assassin, a thief, a prostitute, a nun, a young girl, a stall-holder, what would I do, what would I think, how would I behave.’

6 Responses to “All Characters are Entirely Fictitious”

  1. Jim Murdoch says:

    I wonder if anyone has ever modified that statement, if only to add “…apart from the author him/herself who is to be found everywhere herein…” or something like that?

    jb says: I’ve seen some wit employed in that area, Jim. But not specifically what you suggest.

  2. Friends will always assume you have put them or your mutual friends in a novel. I had one friend who told me he’d enjoyed one of my books enormously because I’d put ‘HER’ in it – referring to a rather precocious girl we both knew at college. I hadn’t. Not even subliminally. ‘Oh yes you did,’ said my friend. ‘The physical description is exactly her.’ Hmm. The physical description came about because I saw the cover. It had always bugged me when the character on the front looked nothing like the character inside – and so I made sure they were alike.

    When I told my friend that he still didn’t believe me. AND there was a disclaimer about ‘fictional persons’!

    jb says: This has happened with my own novels and friends or acquaintances as well. I expect it goes with the territory. Difficult to understand for a writer – why do I spend so much time and effort creating fictional characters if my friends and neighbours see themselves everywhere they look?

  3. Boxofficegirl says:

    I’m working on a peice at the moment which is definitely based on somebody I know. They are also known within the wider community and I have had to be very careful about description and naming the character for obvious reasons. Much of my work is observational anyway but curiously I wrote a post for another forum concerned with looking at Self in relation to character as you mention in the final paragraph John. I don’t know how else to bring truth to fiction without putting myself into the character’s shoes.

    The idea of paying to be in a novel is astonishing but then I suppose there are those who immortalise themselves in cameo roles for films because they admire the lead actor or director etc.

    Who wants to live forever…? Quite a few apparently.

    jb says: Hi Tracey. That ability to put yourself into the shoes of the other, or empathy, is a must for anyone who writes fiction.

    Living for ever? Sounds quite a draining experience to me. But in reality I think people are motivated more by the fear of extinction than the wish to live for ever.

  4. […] John Baker on ‘entirely fictional characters’. How true. Category: Linked List […]

  5. Wren says:

    I love the quote at the end of your post. It’s so true. When writing fiction, I’ve had the pleasure of being a spy, an extraterrestrial, a paramedic and a native-American veterinarian. What fun! Since I’m not really any of those people, the research into their “lives” becomes an adventure, as well. Perhaps someday all this imagination and research will culminate in an actual book. I just keep at it.

  6. john baker says:

    jb says: That’s the way, bluewren, keep at it; and enjoy it.