All memory is fiction

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.

-Ernest Hemingway

I just finished reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, a fictional account of Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson. They married before he’d published any of his novels, and she accompanied his during his Paris years in the 1920s as he wrote The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway lost lots of friends throughout his life because his novels, particularly his first one Sun and For Whom the Bell Tolls are barely disguised as autobiographical. In his first draft of Sun, he didn’t even bother to fictionalize the names of those characters.

Whenever I’m asked if my fiction is autobiographical, I laugh. How can our writing not be about our past? Some of us merely disguise it more.

I’ve always maintained all of our memories are fiction so why not the other way around. Have you ever shared memories with friends and families years after an event? Everyone has a different story to tell based on their experience of that event.

I agree with Hemingway’s quote. I’ve read several novels recently where the main characters are caricatures, and they come across as false and hollow. I find myself concentrating on the characterization rather than losing myself in the writing.

The Paris Wife is an excellent read. Despite the real characters, such as Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, populating its pages, I was mesmerized by the story and captivated by the writer’s ability to portray the agony and angst of a writer whose every flaw is exposed. Despite that, I still found myself drawn to the Hemingway character. McLain takes real life and turns into fiction without losing the essence of the man and the era.


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