Here's an amusing little snippet which made me laugh when I read it in The Grasshopper King:
I had some idea of writing, which was partly a vestige of my youthful idealization of New York and the poets, partly a long-nursed desire to correct the follies of my former acquaintances by satirizing them, transparently disguised, in print.
Is the author speaking for himself (transparently disguised as a fictional character)? Or is he just joking about authors and would-be authors in general? Do authors sometimes mock real people by sneaking a few of them into fictional works?
I'm guessing that they do. Another author admitted to the same thing here:
At our StoryMaker Conference this past weekend, I bought a little plaque that said, "All my enemies become victims or incompetent villains in my novels." I loved that plaque because it’s true. I have written people into my novels that weren’t nice to me. It felt cathartic, too, in a way. I have a tender heart and I have worked long and hard on getting a tougher skin, but it’s a trial for me. If I were writing my own life, I would definitely try to make myself less sensitive and explore that story idea of something really exciting and daring happening to me and rooting out that part of my personality. Then I wouldn’t be reduced to writing novels with mean people’s names in them and laughing every time I read it to myself.
The natural follow-up question is covered in the same post: "Don’t you really wish we could edit our own lives sometimes?"
I love workshopping with other authors, and one of the most interesting aspects is how often a first novel tends to be an edited and corrected version of the author's own life. That's not a bad thing -- if you've led an interesting life or at least can recount it well. "Oneself" is an obvious first choice for a character to portray. And reading a story often means discovering what the character/author imagines could or should have happened differently. This adds a new dimension to the picture.
Here's another Mormon author (Christopher Bigelow) on analyzing one's own life through fiction. In his case he decided to revisit his past without correcting it (in the novel Kindred Spirits):
I didn't really blame myself for the sins. Deep down inside, I felt--and perhaps still feel--that the sins were somewhat inevitable, not really anything I could have realistically avoided, just a natural part of my mortal experience. I acknowledged the sins as wrong but didn't feel all that personally responsible or sorry. In the novel, I give Eliza similar feelings.
So if I could have somehow revisited my own imperfect repentance through the novel and actually achieve a new level of grief and regret for sins, that would have been spiritually productive for me. Frankly, I can't imagine how that could have happened, but it's a nice idea. Instead, the novel is more a mirror of my own spiritual journey, which apparently isn't completed yet, thus leaving the novel with a particularly unfinished feeling for those further along in their spiritual journey.
Now it's time for me to come clean myself.
As I've explained before, Youth Conference is the most autobiographical segment of Exmormon. (It's also the first part I wrote.) I simplified the story a bit -- limited the time-span, cut down on the number of characters and mixed them up a little -- but it could practically be a memoir (see Storytelling: fiction vs. memoirs).
BYU (the second segment I wrote) was the part where I started from reality and then did some major edits and corrections. First of all, Lynn was already attending BYU when she had her deconversion epiphany. She didn't stop believing as a high school senior and then say "Well, I'll just go to BYU anyway since that's what my parents want -- how bad can it be?" Secondly, once Lynn stopped believing, she transferred to another school (instead of saying "Since my parents won't help if I go somewhere else, looks like I can't transfer without going into debt -- guess I'll just stick it out"). And the third change was to replace my real-life boyfriend Steve with Rex. This change is really more of a simplification than an improvement (since Steve was arguably more of a character), but not to worry! Bits of Steve will find their way into future characters in future novels.
So where did Rex Wendell come from? Can a fictional character ever be wholly made up? I think in this case he's mostly an expression of what I imagine I'd be like if I were a guy. I probably shouldn't admit to that since it makes writing a sex scene for Rex and Lynn look that much more like an exercise in masturbation. Anyway...
Now what about self-indulgently using fiction to ridicule my enemies? I like to think I'm mostly not guilty of this offense. Okay, some have suggested that Lynn's roommate looks suspiciously like my real-life freshman roommate, but that's as bad as it gets.
The thing is that I'll write people acting in selfish self-interest, but I don't like writing villains who are simply pure bad guys. As an example, in my new novel (Foreign Stars), I thought it would be fun to explore the dispute within feminism over sexual expression. If you follow my blog, you probably know that I don't think highly of the anti-porn faction of feminism (see feminism and sexuality), so you might expect to see a Dworkinite character as a villain. I kind of started in that direction, but that's really not my style. So as the story progressed, the Dworkinite feminist character was fleshed-out, started getting the better of the other characters much of the time, and by the end was one of the main hero/protagonists, without changing her politics.
So what about you other writers out there? Is your first protagonist a (thinly disguised) version of yourself? And have you kept your friends close and your enemies closer?
What about friends of authors? Have you ever been reading along and found a fictionalized version of yourself in a story?