The Stuff An Author’s Dreams & Nightmares Are Made Of

The greatest power and the greatest terror of being an artist is the amount of ourselves that we put into our art. As good as our imaginations are, they are powered by our dreams and our nightmares: experiences, hopes, wishes, fears, and more. Our lives. Our souls. We expose little bits of ourselves with each piece we create.

Yet at the same time, those fragments of truth are intricately mixed and woven through utter fabrications. For a reader to catch those revelations, they must sort and sift through every facet of the work. As readers, there’s a sneaky, superior thrill to that, a feeling that we are too smart to trick. The sort of feeling where you grin and chant, “I’m finding your secrets!” in a sing-song way. We want to think that we know it all.

But we don’t want to know that we know it all.

When a work of fiction is so close to reality that its personal nature is blatantly obvious, it becomes uncomfortable for the reader. We want the author to make the lies feel so real that it blurs the line between fiction and reality. When an author does that well, you have a great book.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop readers from thinking that they know it all.

To be perfectly frank, I’m not entirely sure which is more frightening as a writer: readers finding those secrets or readers being absolutely certain that some of the lies are truth. On the one hand, they’d have a microscope aimed directly at part of your soul. On the other hand, they would think they did, but what they saw would be a big fat lie (along with their impressions of you). Both ideas sound extremely uncomfortable to me, and I’m afraid that they seem equally likely to pop up in any artist’s future.

What do you think? Would it be worse for them to find one of your secrets? Or for them to believe that they did and continue to believe it no matter what you might say?


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