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?