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photo courtesy Flickr’s Capricorn Cringe

Once upon a time I was a fool for love. Or just a fool. Now I’m writing about a woman who is in a relationship with the wrong man. He’s not a good guy, but my protagonist can’t see that.

I’ve been writing around my own experience doing many of the same things she does because….

This novel isn’t the story of me with that man and I don’t want to have to explain that a million times. People tend to assume what they read in a novel is true. I once had a woman argue with me at a reading that the main character in my first novel had to be me. I’d bet money someone out there believes J.K. Rowling really went to wizarding school.

But I’ve come to realize the deeper reason I’ve been avoiding my own experience is because it’s embarrassing, and isn’t much fun to revisit. Sure, over a few margaritas with friends I can poke fun at myself for some of the things that happened back then. But I don’t really want to go to the place where the pain is.

And that’s not going to cut it. For that woman at the reading had a point. While the protagonist in that novel wasn’t me, she was in fact a part of me. As are all the people in my stories. I’m not doing myself or my characters or my readers any favors when I try to deny or avoid that.

For my character to be believably vulnerable, I will have to allow myself to be vulnerable and put myself out there a little more. I’ve got to risk people knowing I was or am a doormat, shallow, deceitful, selfish, foolish.

Just writing that I had to laugh at myself. Here I’ve been trying to avoid revealing what everyone already knows: I’m human. I’m capable of all the stuff we all are. If it’s a mistake, I’ve made it or I will soon. We all have or will. We think we have something to hide, but we don’t really. All that less-than-stellar, shameful stuff we don’t want people to know about is all the same less-than-stellar, shameful stuff they have too. Characters without those aspects are no more believable than real life people.

Writing about this character, having empathy for her, might help me find a little empathy for myself. But as much as I appreciate therapy, my purpose with this post isn’t to focus on the good that I might do myself by writing about these issues, but to remind myself that it will do my writing good. Help me portray a truer character and a stronger story.

I’m not writing events exactly the way that they happened because it’s not my story (really!). But I am tapping into the emotions and beliefs that drove me back then (and some that still drive me today). It’s still a little uncomfortable, but I gain nothing by hiding.

Besides gulping margaritas as I write, anyone got any tips for writing about things that are embarrassing?

About Carleen Brice

Carleen Brice writes nonfiction and fiction. Her most recent books are the novels Orange Mint and Honey, which was made into a Lifetime television movie called “Sins of the Mother,” and Children of the Waters. She’s currently at work on a novel called Every Good Wish.