Monday, February 22, 2010

Does Anyone Else Have The Writer’s Disease?

Well, enough ranting for a while. Now I’ll turn to excusing my own bad behavior by attempting to tarnish others. I’m launching a kind of guilt class action—let’s if it sticks. Here goes.
I’ve noticed I have a bad habit of making up stories about people. Not just about the characters in my books, but about people I barely know.
And, no, I’m not the one that started that rumor that you kissed Bobby Malone behind the bleachers. That was so totally not me. I’m not talking about gossip. These stories are not ever shared with anyone else. Which is a good thing, because many of them are just plain wrong.
When I meet someone, and I know little about them, I take the few facts and observations I have and spin them into a whole set of assumptions based on how they look, their clothing, and what they say and do. Not to mention the fact that they resemble my cousin who used to beat me up, my aunt that I adored, or the teacher I had in seventh grade who used to smoke in the principal’s office.
I create history, motive, intentions (good and bad) personalities, gifts, talents and flaws. I make ordinary people extraordinary, whether they want to be or not, and sometimes fail to give credit where credit is due.
I’ll see somebody crying in an airport, and pretty soon, I’m sniffling, too, because I know she’s going home to bury the child she never knew. I’ll see a couple squabbling in the grocery store, and I’ll find myself taking sides, creating a back story to support my choice, even though I really know next to nothing.
You’re too controlling, I say to myself. She’s not the same person you married, so deal with it.
In effect, I write their story for them, without their knowledge, input or permission. A story that may have only a nodding acquaintance with the facts.
I know everyone does this to a degree. That’s why we say things like, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” and “It’s what’s inside that counts.” But, hey, I’m a writer. I have a fertile imagination. My stories are remarkably detailed and incredibly persistent.
It’s bad enough when I do this with strangers that I’ll never see again. But if it’s someone I interact with on a regular basis, my stories are put to the test. When reality contradicts them, I resist revision. I feel resentful and betrayed, like the person made a promise to me and didn’t keep it.
But you’re supposed to like dogs, I think. You look and act like someone who would. But I thought you’d be funny. You remind me of my friend from college who always made me laugh. Or, you’re not supposed to want the same things I do. You’re supposed to be all noble and selfless. That’s the role I assigned to you. What gives?
Meanwhile, of course, the person soldiers on, totally oblivious of their part as a character in my story.
Anybody else guilty of this?

6 comments:

Aaron said...

I never thought about it until I read your post but I'm willing to except all the charges. I constantly finding myself thinking "Maybe that sad woman has a child and maybe her husband has cancer" then I think about these strangers' (whom I will never see again) lives and how they would be as books, my tales that grow themselves. Then I think of music playing as I see them for the last time ever, like the music that goes with what they're thinking..... I don't know... Maybe it's a writing gene or maybe it's just a thing, but I like how I'm able to imagine the people having a story even when I don't know it. A good story, and an amazing one.

Rachael said...

It's amazing, the different perceptions and perspectives we develop based on a glimpse. I do the same thing. Assign people a personality, then, when they act differently, I'm left wondering why they're different. Huh. It's reassuring to share the disease!

Arya said...

Wow you totally summed up that disease! I find myself doing the exact same thing! It is so funny to know that other people have "Writer's Disease".

Still you have to wonder if that is such a bad thing? To assign each person you meet a starring role in a story that has never been? It will make you realze how special and precious each human-being is. . .then of course we do walk into where they cannot be themselves because we have "written" a box for them. But I do think that, to a certain degree, it is a good thing. We create a world in which she has a reason to cry - a good one - and that makes us sympathetic. In a way, it could make us helpful to people, not to just be judging, but to be creating, though most often the tale we spin is much more glamorous than the actual story. . .

Jen said...

I totally do this! The depth of my stories relies on how interesting the person is, how bored I am, and the length of time I have to observe said person. I also get disappointed if the person does something that seems counterintuitive to my story. I do this much more with people I don't know. And, of course, made them up and told people when I was much younger - junior high is a perfect example. Out of watching a cute blonde boy in Florida on the beach for several days, I returned home to NY to announce that I had a long-distance beau and how we'd spent all sorts of time together. Then, alas, when I tired of the story, I killed him off in a DWI crash off of a cliff (!) in Florida (because there are so many in the Sunshine state). And, of course I thought it was the height of sappiness and love (instead of lunacy) that our song was "I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight." Which I, by the way, just heard the other day in the car and laughed til I cried over that ridiculous chapter in my limp love life as a tween.

Lorin said...

Yeah, my Mom got mad at me for it... I kept on jusdging and making up stories in my head about people... too bad they were wrong......

Nick Alimonos said...


Of course I have the writer's disease! It's the title of my blog . . . but my definition for it differs from yours. For me, writer's disease is the compulsion to write or to be creative. Naturally, being a writer, I am always turning people I meet into story characters. It's how I ended up inventing many of the characters for my fiction!