The first “book” I ever wrote, I based off real life events in my oh-so-tragic teenage life. Maybe a little too closely. I wrote about real people and changed all their names.
As we mature as writers, we figure out new and better ways to weave tiny threads of people we know and care about into our stories, much more subtly than a simple name change. I do it all the time: that person in class who thinks he knows everything (but doesn’t); that roommate you stay up half the night laughing with (love you Olive!). Sometimes our parents even get the occasional cameo reference.
I wanted to write a post on Mother’s Day, about my mother, because I didn’t feel like one cookbook was enough, after an entire year of putting up with living with my post-grad self, to remind her how much I want and need her in my life. But I started outlining what I wanted to say, and realized something that at first made me uncomfortable.
I’ve never written my mom into a story before. Not really.
But it turns out I’ve had a pretty good reason not to. Yes, she’s been here since the beginning; yes, she’s been to all my concerts and graduations and paid more attention to the A’s on my report cards than the other letters of the grade point alphabet. She’s also my one and only mom, the only one I’ll ever have.
And do you know what? I don’t want to share her with anybody else (little bro, if you could just skip a few paragraphs, that’d be great).
As my mother’s only daughter, I think I have a right to want to keep the “mom” part of her for myself. I’m all for sharing, except in this particular case. Having lived with her day in and day out most of my life, I’ve seen her in all lights, good and sometimes not so good. But I love every piece of her, because without her, I wouldn’t be me.
We base characters off people we know, care about and sometimes even love all the time, often without realizing it. What makes it difficult to pinpoint is that, in a well-crafted story, one character isn’t always a clear-cut image of the real-life person you’re basing them off of.
Usually, one character serves as a symbolic representation of one characteristic you’ve taken from someone you know, or maybe multiple people. So all your characters could end up representing multiple characteristics of the same person. We unknowingly distribute these characteristics because we know, care about and sometimes even love the person these characteristics belong to. We don’t need to clone them into a book; they’re already right here.
I feel this way about my mom.
In my book (the name keeps changing, so I won’t risk deceiving you again), the main character does not have a mother (it’s a long story—er, literally). She spends a good portion of the book carrying around the mystery of what really happened to her, and eventually may or may not figure it out. The point is, she doesn’t have a mom to turn to. So she stumbles across a few substitutes along the way.
Every motherly figure my MC encounters along her journey never seems to be enough to satisfy her needs, because what she’s really hoping to find is the only mom that fits all the criteria in one person: hers. There are pieces of my mom woven in here and there, sure. But even the most important of these isn’t based off her entirely.
I like my mom just the way she is, right here next to me, without character flaws and downfalls that prevent her from reaching her full potential as a parent. Nobody is perfect all the time, and I don’t expect her to be. And in real life, that’s okay. In this story, it isn’t. My mom doesn’t belong there. She belongs here.
So I think I’ll keep her with me, because let’s face it, she’s too good of a mom to confine to the pages of a book. There shouldn’t have to be a beginning and an end to the story of how she’s made my life amazing. That gives me something to look forward to.
By the way, that first “book” I wrote? She read it. And she told me it was good, even though it wasn’t.
That’s love. That’s a mother’s beautiful love.
I love you, mom. I always have. I always will.
Image courtesy of Meg Dowell.
A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup. She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.