The other day I was at my local mechanic. With a 2000 VW Cabrio with 123K miles, I’m there a lot. Over the years of going to the garage, I’ve come to feel a real affection for the men who spend six days a week working hard to keep their neighbors’ cars, trucks, and motorcycles mobile.
It probably comes as no surprise that in my manuscripts, there are characters who drive cars which, on occasion, need to be repaired.
While one character of mine, Lara, drives an older model VW Cabrio, her car never seems to need the skilled diagnosis of a mechanic. (Some writers create worlds which are reflections of their dreams.)
However, I do write about a man whose vintage Saab SPG is at his local garage with great regularity. My fictional Saab driver feels good bringing his plagued car to his trusted mechanic, who without exception, is more than happy to fix the car (and charge the customer).
This is, without a doubt, how I feel and — I imagine — how my real mechanic feels. People with older cars are good customers to have; mechanics who take care of these people are community assets.
Anyhow, I was at the real garage the other day (big surprise) and I mentioned to my mechanic that I had written a character named “Nikos” who owns a busy garage in a small town.
When I offered to share with him some passages about “Nikos,” he was thrilled. I dropped them off when I picked my car up and said, “See you soon.” (Which as you know from the above disclosure is an accurate prediction.)
Then I got to thinking . . .
Does my mechanic think Nikos is him? Did he read the six or seven pages I gave him and think to himself, “This is how she sees me?”
But he shouldn’t.
Because Nikos is not my mechanic. Nikos is only a character — a “good” character, but a character nonetheless.
Nikos is a nice guy who doesn’t bilk his customers. He knows how repair late 80’s Saabs and tell naive childless women who need a minivan to make prescription drug runs to Canada whether the minivan is worth the seller’s asking price. Nikos is not a drunk or a criminal or a philanderer.
So, it’s likely that my mechanic, if he thinks Nikos is him — which I assert he is not — is “all right” with the referential character and presumed subsequent association.
Well, what about the therapist who has a “thing” for one of his clients? Or the lawyer who is a vodka-martini-loving, twice divorced bachelor? Or the older, widowed, noisy neighbor? Or the cop who was passed over for a promotion due to bureaucratic expediency?
Will every therapist, lawyer, senior, and police officer who I’ve ever met think that he/she was the “inspiration” behind Ray, Mitch, Patrice, and Natalie?
If they do, those readers might not be as “all right” about it as my mechanic because those characters are flawed.
I wrote them that way because without flaws they are not real. To write them without shortcomings and deficiencies would make them nothing but little plastic play toys.
Those little plastic people don’t have struggles, passions, and heartaches. Hell, they don’t even have legs. Those little people have a barn door that makes something like a “moo” sound when it’s opened and shut and an elevator that goes up and down on a hand crank.
My stories are about loyalty and betrayal, addiction and redemption, presumption and realization. It is impossible to have perfect characters. And if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we, too, lack perfection.
So while Lara might drive around Ledbury in February with the top down (I, too, have done this in the middle of winter), that doesn’t mean everything Lara does and every thought and experience Lara has is a poorly-veiled retelling of my actions and my thinking.
Lara is a fictional character, and she is not me. To think she is me is an ill-founded, though easy, conclusion to draw.
Lara is, also, not a tall, leg-less, curvaceous (plastic) blond in a tight-fitting, blue (plastic) dress who drives a one-passenger (plastic) car.
She was borne of my imagination, as are all of my characters. I might need to tell my mechanic this if I get a strange vibe from him the next time I go over. Which should be by the end of the week.