Your Life is a Novel, Not a Biography

Alphabet Land Front Cover small

By Max Everhart

Are you an uncover agent for the CIA, or a contract assassin whose real identity must remain secret?

No?

A shame. Because not only are you missing out on wearing tailored suits and fighting villains with eye patches and traveling to exotic (if not dangerous) locales, you’re also stuck with the biographical details of your life. When you were born, and where, and to whom—those cannot be changed. That part of your life is non-fiction.

Ah, but the rest of your life is fiction. Or at least partially fiction. Think about it.  Your life is contingent upon memory, and memory is an imperfect thing, something subject to interpretation. Which is where writers, like moi, come in handy.  We don’t invent reality; we interpret it.

Give you an example. I recently published a crime/suspense novel called Alphabet Land, which concerns a crime-riddled neighborhood where all the streets are named after letters of the alphabet.  Now a few years ago a friend of mine told me about a neighborhood called Alphabet Hill; he said all the streets there are named after letters and if I ever needed to buy drugs or a gun (and I didn’t, and don’t, thank you very much!), that this was the place to go.  So I had him take me there one afternoon, and I saw bullet holes in the street signs, hypodermic needles scattered along the cracked sidewalks, and houses in various states of disrepair. Then he took us to a park where kids were fighting and drinking from brown paper bags.  After the initial shock of pre-teens fist-fighting wore off, I noticed a man in a flannel shirt sitting at a picnic table, smoking and playing chess by himself. That flannel-wearing, chess-playing guy became the basis for the Rook, my protagonist in Alphabet Land. The Rook, a “problem-solver” who plays chess and gets justice his way, is based on a man I saw in that park for maybe a total of twenty seconds.

The weird bit? Whenever I ask my friend about the man playing chess in the park, he says there was no such man, even though my memory is quite vivid.  .  .and there you go. Interpretation. He saw one thing, I saw another.

To put a coda on these ramblings: writers use the world around them for inspiration. They look, and reflect, and then interpret. You wanna be a fiction writer: forget about absolutes. No such thing as facts. Nothing is right, nothing is wrong. Nothing is true, nothing is false. It’s all up for interpretation, so go write down your particular version. And if you want to write a mystery, just remember all of your suspects have to have motive, means, and opportunity.

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11 thoughts on “Your Life is a Novel, Not a Biography

  1. Wow! Interpretation?? I thought that it was all conjuered up,well I guess it is!! Interesting & captivating the way your observations became the novel,Alphabet Land. It just amazes me that the conversations & characters are all from your imagination. Thank you for the novel. I have read it 2 times now,so it must be a favorite!

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    1. Thanks for the thought, Teresa. And for reading (and liking) my so-called work. Put simply, I don’t have a great imagination, so I use whatever I see. Basically, I just take reality and distort to suit my narrative purposes. That is, I used to do that. Lately, I haven’t been writing; I’ve been wallowing, which is all part of the writing process. Least that’s what I’m telling myself as I rewatch the entire Sopranos series.

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  2. What you describe so well here is the creative process, creativity. Any good novel starts from one simple image that incubates in the author’s mind. It grows into the story and begins to have its own gravity, pulling other characters, conflicts, and ideas into its orbit. Creativity in the abstract, good stories/novels in the concrete.

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  3. I also agree. A single sentence that popped into my mind and wouldn’t leave became the seed that grew into the Mac McClellan Mystery series. “The first cast of the day turned my dream vacation into a nightmare.” (Opening line from Deadly Catch)

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  4. Even when I was young I would make up stories about people I saw in restaurants or the store. Now I’m just putting those made up stories in books! Writers are interesting that way, we see what others don’t……

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi JackieP! Please keep us in mind for a guest post, book review, interview, writing tips, or whatever you might like to offer. Our goal is for MotiveMeansOpportunity to be an interactive place where writers, readers, and anyone interested in the mystery/thriller genre come together, mingle, and talk. Thanks for your comment!
      –Mike/Michael/E. Michael Helms/ Hey, You!

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