Maddie Dawson on the Perks of Writing Fiction

My family used to write a weekly humor column about the craziness of family life.

Actually, I was the one who was supposed to be writing it, but I didn’t want to be one of those writer moms—you know the kind who sends her kids into psychoanalysis or heroin addiction because of the embarrassing things she’s revealed about their young, tender lives, so I made sure we did it by committee.

Together, we crafted columns about wacky homework assignments (the time we had to carve a Sphinx out of a bar of soap was a big hit) and about how the youngest child lost her first tooth before I’d quite gotten around to telling her about the fact that children are supposed to lose their baby teeth, and about how, when you have a family of five, you are likely to find yourself fixing at least four separate dinners every night if you’re not careful and let them turn picky on you.

It was all hilarious fun—until they got to the ages where they didn’t want to play “columnist’s child” anymore.

Even the four-year-old started saying, “This is off the record” at times. And then quite often.

The day came when I realized I’d written three columns in a row about myself: how I’d lost my keys, run out of gas, left my credit card in a store—and so before the authorities swooped down and ordered me to take a mental competency exam, I knew I’d better find another line of work.

Luckily for me, I’d had a novel in a drawer for a few years, and I got it out, finished writing it—and with only minor complications and detours (none having to do with my children’s opinions) found an agent and a publisher and got it published.

Was it weird not to negotiate my way through the writing process? It was wonderful.

Fictional characters may feel real to you, but they mostly go along with whatever you say. If you want to put them in some close calls and tight spots, they just fall into line.

You can boss them around and rain endless torment down on their heads, give them bad bosses, difficult romantic partners, unwanted pregnancies—and then sleep easy at night knowing that you’ll never be responsible for their therapy bills.

Best of all, unlike with real human beings, if anything goes wrong in their lives—you can fix it with a flick of your computer keys. If you want to.

Writing fiction certainly has its perks!

Congrats to Debra L., Mary P., Betty W., Harry H., Carolyn F., and 195 other members of the Read It Forward community! Their entries were selected at random to win an Advance Reader’s Copy of The Opposite of Maybe by Maddie Dawson.

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RIFer writers out there! How would you describe the process of creating your fictional characters? Do you boss them around? Do they tell you who they are? Share in the comments!

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