Carol Shields on invention over invasion

Something to go with your Sunday morning coffee...Carol Shields did a terrific essay "Opting for Invention Over the Injury of Invasion" for the NY Times Writers on Writing series.

Here's a bit:
One day I ran into an acquaintance at a shopping mall. She had just bought herself a beautiful new spruce-green nightgown, and she opened her bag an inch or two, so I might admire it.

"And now," she said, "I must rush off to buy some matching candles." I must have looked bewildered because she immediately explained, "Oh, I have candles to match all my nightgowns."

I was in the midst of a novel at the time, as I usually am, and I couldn't resist putting in this particular report from the Frontier of Real Life. I relish such curious glimpses into people's lives, flashes of uniqueness that reveal, in a blink of the eye, their extraordinary otherness.

But months later, when I came to read the proofs for the novel, I took the candles-and-nightgown reference out. My friend would be sure to read the book, and certainly she would recognize herself, since she must be the only person in the Western Hemisphere who carries color coordination to this extreme. The excision cost me a sigh of regret. But it preserved our acquaintance, and perhaps avoided a storm of self-consciousness on her part...

Is it worth it? Every novelist will reply differently.

Click here to read the entire article, and have a lovely Sunday.


Oooh, can I ever relate to that dilemma. Writers are often vampires, sucking the best details and even dialogue from all the lives around them. Lots of times, they're just too delicious to resist!
Suzan Harden said…
Hmmm... Would Carol Shields feel better to learn her acquaintance wasn't the only person who did that? One idiosyncracy is usually shared by at least one other person on the planet. It's the particular combinations that make each individual unique.

I'm not the only parent who drags their kids to superhero movies. I am one of the rare moms who does it.
Allen said…
"Writers are often vampires..."
I worked that as analogy into a story. No one in my writer group got it. Of course the story glows, undimmed by the reader's lack of comprehension. :-) Did I mention it was a vampire story?

On the main article: A writer wrote a book about the small town in which she continued to live, and live in fear of the publishing day. But, characters she was sure would be offended would stop her and say, "I know someone JUST LIKE THAT!"
Wish I could recall who that writer was.
Thanks for stopping by, Suzan and Allen. Allen, people hardly ever recognize themselves as inspirations for anyone whose characteristics are shown in a less than glowing light. (I've had the same experience as the writer in the article.)

However, I've had quite a few men of my acquaintance claim that they were obviously the inspiration for the heroes of my stories. Yeah, right. ;)

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